The interactions between Helicobacter, Campylobacter and the immune system
Campylobacters are a group of bacteria that are the most common cause of diarrhea worldwide. Under this group is the Helicobacter group of bacteria that causes peptic ulcer disease and gastritis. Among the campylobacters that are important are the campylobacter jejuni and campylobacter coli.
Source of infection
The infection process entails two factors, one for bacterial which accounts for the number of bacteria that can affect the person which is very low from 500-600 and another for the person’s immune system status. People on steroids, with cancer or in chemotherapy and people with Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV have persistent and severe infections.
The bacteria are widely carried by animals such as birds, pigs, cattle and sheep but the most common are from the chicken. Raw meat is the most common contaminant which could bring the infection. Animals in contact with drinking water can also bring the infection if the water is not chlorinated. A number of infections were also seen in unpasteurized milk. Person to person transmission was also noted through contact with a sick person not observing hygienic processes or not washing hands.
The stomach’s acidity fights off the bacteria so that drinking water which dilutes the stomach or consumption of milk which lowers the acidity can make one susceptible to infection by not being able to fight off the bacteria.
The incubation period of the disease (days before showing signs of sickness after getting the bacteria) can range from 3-7 days.
Once the bacteria gets in the body, it stays in the gut releasing harmful toxins which can cause diarrhea for other types of diarrhea or peptic ulcer for helicobacter pylori.
Period of Sickness
Campylobacter diarrhea causes loose bowel movements , vomiting and abdominal pain in a person presenting in a mild manner to severe in a person with compromised immune system like people with HIV, on steroids or in chemotherapy. The disease can mimic appendicitis, so it is helpful to distinguish between the two by visiting the health care practitioner. Complications of the disease have been noted but are rare such as arthritis, pericarditis or Guillain Barre Syndrome .
Helicobacter pylori infection occurs in a more chronic process causing peptic ulcer disease and gastritis sometimes even leading to gastric cancer, especially if the disease process is prolonged or without treatment.
When to seek help
If an acute diarrheal process is ongoing, it is prudent to consult a primary health practitioner. Usually fluids and electrolyte replacement are given, but in severe cases such as in the elderly or those with challenged immune system, an antibiotic is prescribed.
A stool culture is usually done to establish a diagnosis.
For helicobacter infection a breath test is done to make a diagnosis. A lifelong infection is usually detected by findings of a stomach or intestinal ulcer. An antibiotic is also given and medications against ulcer are given.
Prevention of the disease works by avoiding raw meat and avoiding contamination of cooked food with raw meat. Drink clean water and pasteurized drinks and always wash hands.