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Age at Acquisition of Helicobacter pylori Infection: Comparison of Two Areas with Contrasting Risk of Gastric Cancer


Reprint request to: Dr Elizabeth T.H. Fontham, Department of Pathology. Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, 1901 Perdido Street, Box P5-1, New Orleans LA, 70112, USA. Tel.: (504) 599–1388; Fax: (504) 599 1278; E-mail:


Background. Helicobacter pylori infection is usually acquired during childhood and is a known risk factor for the development of gastric malignancies in adulthood. It has been reported that early age at first infection may determine a neoplastic outcome in adults. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of Helicobacter pylori infection in children residing in areas with high (Pasto) and low risk (Tumaco) of gastric cancer in Colombia to evaluate whether differences in the age of acquisition of H. pylori infection were present in the two populations.

Materials and Methods.  The study sample was based on a census taken in 1999. Using the 13C-urea breath test, we compared the prevalence of H. pylori infection among children aged 1–6 years.

Results.  Among 345 children in Pasto, 206 (59.7%) were H. pylori-positive, compared with 188 (58.6%) among 321 children in Tumaco. The two populations share a common pattern of very early age at infection and marked increase in prevalence during the first 4 years of life. No differences in any one year were observed when comparing the two groups.

Conclusions.  The prevalence of infection was similarly high and increased with age in both populations. In these populations the age of acquisition of H. pylori after 1 year of age does not appear to be a primary factor responsible for the differences in the rates of gastric cancer incidence in adults. Previous findings in adults showed lower prevalence of the most virulent genotypes in Tumaco compared to Pasto, and bacterial virulence may play a key role in determining cancer outcome.