Liam Farrell: What goes around, comes around

'Eey, lad,' said the old gastric parietal cell (was that a little tear in his eye, a catch in his voice?). 'When I was your age, them mucosal fields was full of helicobacter, as far as the eye could see; but tell that to young folk nowadays, and they don't believe you.'

Liam Farrell
Liam Farrell

Twenty years ago we had never heard of it, but since it first burst into our lives Helicobacter pylori, not unlike general surgeons, has been a victim of the inexorable and unreasoning advance of medical science.

Give a dog/bacteria a bad name, it seems, and before you can blink or appeal to our understanding of the crucial importance of biodiversity, there are blood tests, breath tests, CLO tests and myriad eradication cocktails.

Even changing its name didn't improve the situation; the same well-validated public relations ploy which saw Windscale transmogrify into Sellafield and Marathon into Snickers hasn't done much for campylobacter-helicobacter.

If we were applying the same degree of systematic persecution to tigers and whales and pandas there would be an outcry; where are Greenpeace when you need them, we protest, they are just a bunch of kaftan-wearing hypocrites if you ask me, not interested in anything unless it involves swanning around in a big boat like wannabe rock-stars trying to flog their reality TV series.

But life isn't fair, and we are superficial creatures, in thrall to loveliness; as the mad German poet Friedrich Holderlin observed in Socrates and Alcibiades, 'The wise, in the end, will/Often bow to the beautiful.' If the helicobacter was as cuddly or charismatic as Chi-Chi and An-An would we be exterminating them so blithely?

If helicobacter had been discovered in the rainforest, Sting and Bono, in between counting their money and preaching that the rest of us cancel third-world debt, would be insisting on its preservation.

Medical fashions change and it is only a matter of time until someone finds out that a decent crop of helicobacter is in fact good for us, and protective against something or other. They will then be re-launched in lavishly advertised pro-biotic drinks, and everyone who tests negative will be made to feel inadequate and lacking.

Every dog/bacteria has it's day, though it's all over for general surgeons.

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