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H. pylori is a gram-negative, spiral-shaped organism, that contains flagella (tail-like structures) and other properties. In addition to flagella, which help the organism to move around in the liquid mucous layer of the stomach, H. pylori also produces an enzyme called urease, that protects it from gastric acid present in the stomach. As the production of this enzyme is relatively unusual, new diagnostic tests have enabled rapid identification of the bacteria.

H. pylori also produces two other chemicals: a cytotoxin called vacA, and a protein known as cagA. Patients with ulcer disease are more likely to produce the cytotoxin (vacA). The cagA protein not only occurs frequently in ulcer disease but also in cancer. It is still not known how these substances enable H. pylori to cause disease.

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