Background: The prevalence of Helicobacter pylori has declined over recent decades in developed countries. The increasing prevalence with age is largely because of a birth cohort effect. We previously observed a decline in H. pylori prevalence in 6- to 8-year-old Dutch children from 19% in 1978 to 9% in 1993. Knowledge about birth-cohort-related H. pylori prevalence is relevant as a predictor for the future incidence of H. pylori-associated conditions.
Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate whether the birth cohort effect of H. pylori observed between 1978 and 1993 continued in subsequent years.
Methods: Anti-H. pylori IgG antibodies and anti-CagA IgG antibodies were determined in serum samples obtained in 2005/2006 from 545 Dutch children aged 7–9 years who participated in the Prevention and Incidence of Asthma and Mite Allergy birth cohort. The H. pylori and CagA antibodies were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays that have been extensively validated in children, with a 94% sensitivity for H. pylori colonization and a 92.5% sensitivity for colonization with a cagA-positive strain.
Results: Of the 545 children (M/F 300/245), most (91.5%) were of Dutch descent. The H. pylori positivity rate was 9% (95% CI 6.6–11.4%). The prevalence of CagA antibodies was 0.9% (95% CI 0.1–1.6%). No significant differences were demonstrated in H. pylori and cagA prevalence in relation to gender or ethnicity.
Conclusion: The prevalence of H. pylori in childhood has remained stable in the Netherlands from 1993 to 2005, suggesting a stabilization of the previously decreasing trend in subsequent birth cohorts. This finding may reflect stabilization in determinants such as family size, housing, and hygienic conditions (or offset by day care). If confirmed in other populations in developed countries, it implies that colonization with H. pylori will remain common in the coming decades. Remarkably however, the rate of colonization with cagA+H. pylori strains has become very low, consistent with prior observations that cagA+ strains are disappearing in Western countries.