Background: Helicobacter pylori infection is very common in Gambian infants and children, who are also at risk of chronic diarrhoea and undernutrition. Acute H. pylori infection is associated with depressed gastric acid secretion, and loss of the gastric acid barrier may predispose to enteric infections.
Methods: In a prospective study a noninvasive test of gastric acid output (measurement of change in urine acid output before and after a feed) was performed on a population of Gambian infants at high risk of H. pylori infection. The 13C urea breath tests was used to measure the prevalence of H. pylori infection and growth was measured by serial anthropometry.
Results: In 101 infants aged 3 to 12 months, there was a significant relation between H. pylori infection and depressed urine acid output in those aged 6 months, during weaning when growth failure and malnutrition begin. Those infants with sustained H. pylori infection grew less well than those without.
Conclusions: We speculate that H. pylori, acquired in infancy, could be a "key that opens the door" to enteric infection in childhood, leading to recurrent diarrhoea, malnutrition, and growth failure.