HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A research team headed by Penn State Harrisburg Assistant Professor of Environmental Microbiology Katherine Baker has found the cause of chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer disease and certain types of stomach cancer -- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium -- in river, creek and lake water in Central Pennsylvania.
The study represents the first report of live H. pylori in surface water in the United States, demonstrating a major reservoir for this organism outside the human body.
Although H. Pylori infects half the world's population, surface water as a primary source of infection has been unknown prior to the research project involving Dr. Baker and John Hegarty, a Penn State Harrisburg graduate student in Environmental Pollution Control and a graduate of Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg.
H. pylori was first described in the early 1980s by Australian researchers. The organism is found in the stomachs of the majority of people in the world. In most people, it does not cause any disease. In a small percentage of individuals, the organism causes serious consequences. It is now accepted that H. pylori is the cause of most duodenal ulcers and between 70 and 80 percent of gastric ulcers. In the late 1980s, a link between H. pylori and certain types of stomach cancer was shown by researchers at Stanford University.
Normal testing procedures do not identify the presence of live H. pylori in water. Therefore, the Penn State Harrisburg researchers had to develop a method to detect the organism. They combined two staining techniques to enable them to count live H. pylori. The bacterium was found in more than 75 percent of the 36 tested surface water samples.
Baker and Hegarty delivered the results of their research last month at the 98th General Meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in Atlanta.