The one time I caught SARS-2 was in September of 2022. I caught it in a setting where I was exposed to large amounts of virus over multiple days. I was already scheduled to get the newly available updated bi-valent booster one week later and I hadn't had any updated immunity since my initial vaccine series almost a year earlier.
I got really really sick.
I recovered gradually over the next 6 months but one symptom lingered the longest - persistent irritation in my throat, acid reflux, and painful spasms of the diaphragm/esophagus that would trigger days of pain in my throat and chest.
I thought it was probably just autonomic dysregulation caused by the intense injury the virus caused throughout my nervous system and upper respiratory system, so I did electro-acupuncture on myself and it began to help resolve the symptoms somewhat. I improved and then stopped doing the treatment regularly. And 9 months after my infection, the symptoms still lingered, triggered by stress, fatigue, overwork. I began to wonder if I could be showing symptoms of a symptomatic H. Pylori infection.
H. Pylori infection is surprisingly common - roughly 36% of people in the United States are infected with this bacterium. H. Pylori is a cause of peptic ulcers and GI cancers. Generally, H. Pylori infection is associated with, “impaired endothelial function through multiple mechanisms, such as increased reactive oxygen species production, oxidative stress, decreased nitric oxide formation, expression of cytokines and microRNAs, abnormalities of lipid and glucose metabolism and the activation of exosome-mediated pathways” (Gonzalez et al., 2022). All of this to say that H. Pylori makes us more vulnerable to Covid’s many different ways of damaging tissues/organs.
Covid-19 also causes similar injury to the entire respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, making it easier for a widespread bacteria like H. Pylori to take advantage and take hold. One particular study found a significantly higher prevalence of H. Pylori in people who had recovered from Covid-19. It is now hypothesized and is supported by clinical and empirical data that SARS-2 infection/Covid can disrupt the immune system and weaken the integrity of many of our organs and tissues, making them more vulnerable to opportunistic infections from bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Since I was dealing with the symptoms and it wasn’t resolved without medication, I spoke with my doctor and she agreed it would be worth testing. I delayed the test and ignored the symptoms as I had been able to manage them and honestly was just hoping it would resolve. It did not.
I got an unidentified upper respiratory infection from our son this past December. It wasn’t flu, RSV, Covid, or any testable virus but it was horrific as it targeted my throat and made all of my gastrointestinal symptoms flare up painfully. I reached back out to my doctor and asked her to put an order in for the H. Pylori breath test again. I got the test done and within a day I had the results - I have an H. Pylori infection.
This is both a positive result and of course a frustrating negative realization; positive in that H. Pylori is typically easy to treat, and negative because I have to take the medication to treat it: two different antibiotics for two weeks with an acid-reducing medication.
Knowing that there has been research showing antibiotic treatments massively dysregulate the microbiome and can open the immune system and gastrointestinal tract to other opportunistic pathogens, I asked my doctor if I could take probiotics during the treatment.
Not surprisingly, she said, “No, I wouldn’t recommend that. Also, what’s the point? I would expect the antibiotics to be ruined by the antibiotics.”I didn’t agree with her and doubted her opinion but thanked her for her assistance in ordering the prescription and hung up.
I quickly searched for research that might have looked at this question of whether probiotics might be helpful or harmful for H. Pylori treatment. I was happy to discover a systematic review and meta-analysis of many studies. The meta-analysis showed a consistent benefit, reduced adverse effects, and modestly better outcomes for patients taking probiotics during H. Pylori treatment. This is important considering there is also evidence antibiotic resistance is reducing the efficacy of treatment for H. Pylori. I will be taking a high-dose, specially-coated probiotic with my antibiotic treatment. I am optimistic I will fully recover and I look forward to sharing the results in a few weeks.
In California, acupuncturists are trained and legally considered primary care providers with a particular specialty. Ideally, we work alongside and with our patient’s providers, offering support that improves the patient’s experience, the outcomes, and the overall success of the integrative care. I am writing this to share my personal health journey as well as to highlight the importance of reading ongoing research and working with someone who knows how to find and analyze research to make medical decisions and optimize outcomes. This is how I work as a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of acupuncture. I approach medicine from a unique perspective while also valuing evidence-based approaches.
If you are looking for a comprehensive and supportive approach to your health, you can work with an acupuncturist that can evaluate your health from a holistic view while encouraging standards of care and doing what is most likely to help you get back to a place of more health and more awareness of how to maintain that health.