The systemic immune response to Helicobacter pylori was examined in 69 children with recurrent abdominal pain and upper gastrointestinal symptoms. Twenty one (30%) children were histologically positive for H pylori. Eighteen of the 21 positive subjects and two H pylori negative subjects (one with normal mucosa, one with lymphocytic gastritis) were positive for H pylori IgG antibodies by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) (86% sensitivity, 98% specificity). In children with H pylori associated gastritis, there was a significant positive correlation (p less than 0.05) between IgG antibody titres and patient age. Intra-assay comparison of sera from histologically negative adults with those of histologically negative children showed that the cut off for positivity in the ELISA for adults was greater than that for children. Immunoblotting showed IgG positivity in 20 of the 21 patients with H pylori infection (95% sensitivity). Both ELISA and immunoblotting for IgA and IgM H pylori antibodies had poor discriminatory value for determining infection. Serological detection of H pylori IgG antibodies seems to be valuable in the assessment of children presenting with recurrent abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms, but assays must first be validated in paediatric populations.
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