Graham Sustainability Institute

Reduced infectivity of waterborne viable but nonculturable Helicobacter pylori strain SS1 in mice

April 2017

Helicobacter pylori infection has been consistently associated with lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation, but no studies have demonstrated that the transmission of viable but nonculturable (VBNC) H. pylori can occur from drinking contaminated water. In this study, we used a laboratory mouse model to test whether waterborne VBNCH. pylori could cause gastric infection.

Materials and Methods

We performed five mouse experiments to assess the infectivity of VBNCH. pylori in various exposure scenarios. VBNC viability was examined using Live/Dead staining and Biolog phenotype metabolism arrays. High doses of VBNCH. pylori in water were chosen to test the “worst-case” scenario for different periods of time. One experiment also investigated the infectious capabilities of VBNC SS1 using gavage. Further, immunocompromised mice were exposed to examine infectivity among potentially vulnerable groups. After exposure, mice were euthanized and their stomachs were examined for H. pylori infection using culture and PCR methodology.


VBNC cells were membrane intact and retained metabolic activity. Mice exposed to VBNCH. pylorivia drinking water and gavage were not infected, despite the various exposure scenarios (immunocompromised, high doses) that might have permitted infection with VBNCH. pylori. The positive controls exposed to viable, culturable H. pylori did become infected.


While other studies that have used viable, culturable SS1 via gavage or drinking water exposures to successfully infect mice, in our study, waterborne VBNC SS1 failed to colonize mice under all test conditions. Future studies could examine different H. pylori strains in similar exposure scenarios to compare the relative infectivity of the VBNC vs the viable, culturable state, which would help inform future risk assessments of H. pylori in water.