Over the last few years in my journalistic work, I have been following a growing body of research that suggests that many chronic conditions -- from multiple sclerosis to heart disease -- may well be caused by unsuspected infectious agents.This realization opens potential new avenues for prevention and treatment, assuming, of course, that medical caregivers will consider all the possibilities.
Alas, disease dogma is remarkably tenacious, as evidenced by a steady stream of calls and mail I get from people struggling with various physical complaints.
Typically, they have already exhausted all the obvious suspects, often after visiting specialists who are at a loss to figure out what's wrong.
These sufferers have read or heard of my investigations into possible microbial culprits and contact me to see whether I can help identify what's making them sick.
But playing doctor long-distance with strangers is a dubious enterprise, especially for someone without formal training. MDs base their diagnoses on clinical signs and symptoms, patient history and the results of lab tests.
These critical details are hard to summarize in a phone call or e-mail, and I'm loath to offer advice based on scanty info.
Sometimes I will help arrange for blood specimens to be shipped and tested at a different lab, but most of the time I can only direct people to further information and contacts.
It's a difficult spot for a journalist. On the one hand, a commitment to patient advocacy and sheer curiosity compel me to try to help in some way.
On the other, I don't want to make things worse by leading people on a wild goose chase in search of the ever-elusive primary pathogens making them ill.
More and more debilitating chronic diseases are turning out to have microbial origins, so it's no wonder patients are second-guessing their diagnoses.
But how many thousands of people endured invasive surgery before it was discovered that a simple three-week course of antibiotics could take care of their stomach ulcers (most of which, it's now recognized, are caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori)?
It'll be fascinating watching the medical textbooks get rewritten over the next decade.