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Wed, 25th February 2015

At least one in seven Australians is infected with "helicobacter pylori". Amazingly very few either know or care, let alone suffer any adverse outcomes. What is it all about? Before 1990, millions were bugged with symptoms such as dyspepsia, maybe abdominal pain, frequently ulcers in the stomach or next part of the bowel called the duodenum. Some even developed stomach cancer for reasons then unknown. Of course, millions still have the same symptoms and diseases, but they are much less frequent and amazingly now the cause can be readily diagnosed and successfully treated. The germ is helicobacter. This was discovered by serendipity by a Perth scientist, Dr Barry Marshall, and his associate, Dr Warren, who had unwittingly let a stomach "culture" from a patient with symptoms, grow over a long weekend. Amazingly, when they returned they discovered the presence of a hitherto unknown "bacteria".

Subsequent tests by Dr Marshall on himself indicated this could lead to the horrible symptoms already described. But even better, within a fairly short time, they found the germ was readily eliminated with everyday antibiotics, given when stomach acid was neutralised. So an unbelievable "cause and cure" had been identified for a common "disease" that had been bugging doctors for hundreds of years.

Until then, dyspepsia and ulcers had often been attributed to mental anxiety, stress, overwork, cigarettes, diet, alcohol and psychological causes. Although these may play a contributory role, they are now considered only minor (apart from smoking, still a big No No).

How is one infected? It appears millions carry the germ and there are no symptoms. It sits there minding its own business, until triggered into activity. Here, the nerve factors may play a role. Still not totally known.

How is the germ transmitted? By simple direct contact. Kissing, drinking from a glass with an infected rim (by somebody else) are cited reasons. But there are probably heaps of other obvious but unknown causes. The Barry Marshall saga was greeted with scepticism and indeed hostility by other "wiser" doctors who immediately felt threatened. But gradually, it has been accepted into mainstream medicine, and Marshall and his friend were awarded the Nobel Prize recently.

Today, although "antacids" are still widely used for dyspepsia, this had largely been replaced by the acid suppressants, antibiotics. A simple breath test (or endoscopic examination) gives a quick diagnosis.



Some very modern bathrooms now have square wash basins. Does this mean that square toilet seats are about to appear?


Interestingly the human anatomy has not materially changed shape for many thousands years of recorded history. Squatting on a square would certainly be uncomfortable. But then again, western society may opt for the eastern culture of providing two foot prints on the bathroom floor over a small hole. This could eliminate the seat and pan system instantly, and would be the ultimate in egalitarianism. Next please.

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I have two choices for my daily walk. A shorter course which goes up some hills and down, or a longer one which is perfectly flat. Does it make any difference?


Why not split the difference and talk alternate routes. The up and down one is probably the more effective for cardiac health. The mere fact of taking a daily walk (minimum thirty minutes) in itself is a good move for better health, reduced illness and longevity. This is now very well established by many longitudinal studies, which includes a large number of doctors and nurses.

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I am a little bit concerned that my three year old seems to "play with himself". Does this indicate any sexual or emotional challenges in later life?


Fear not. Little ones, from birth onwards, like to fiddle, explore and touch. There is absolutely no sexual connotations for quite a few years, usually early teens. In girls menstruation does not commence usually until 12-14, although some start as early as 9, especially in western society. This indicates ovulation and hormonal production by the ovaries. In boys it may even be later when testosterone production begins.

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Are there are any health benefits in chewing gum?


Chewing gum increases saliva production rate which moistens the mouth and helps cleanse the teeth. So it has a positive value. Ideally use non-sweetened ones, otherwise unwanted calories and food which feeds bacteria are also introduced. Some believe there is a risk in bubble gum, for occasionally the thin bubble can be sucked back and cases of choking have been reported. But this is pretty unlikely.

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I understand that sometimes the testes do not descend and this may present a risk in later life in males. But how do we know it has occurred.


At birth babies are carefully checked for many things, including descent of the testes into the scrotal pouch. This is essential. Left in the abdomen where it is warm, there is a high risk of them turning cancerous probably in the teens. Today, a variety of interventions are used, from hormonal to surgical repair.

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This health advice is general in nature. You are advised to seek medical attention from your doctor or health care provider for your own specific symptoms and circumstances.



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