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Using tapeworms to remedy obsession with cleanliness

The New Straits Times, August 12, 2001

By Professor Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

WE are aware that being clean is not always a good thing. The breeding of Aedes mosquitoes, for instance, is more likely to happen in a clean water pool, usually indoors, thus increasing the possibility of dengue.

Often this could be a dilemma of how clean one should be. But observing cleanliness to the point of obsession, reportedly can put individuals at an even higher risk of disease.

It may even threaten an entire country, according to a parasitologist at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University lately, referring to the Japanese obsession with cleanliness.

He even suggested that unless there is a change, in the next 100 years, "these hygiene-obsessed people will be extinct" because they are made more vulnerable to a number of allergies, leading to more serious conditions like asthma, hay fever and dermatitis, a skin problem. Allegedly, the traditional Japanese concern with cleanliness turned to paranoia following a government-led public hygiene campaign during the Meiji era between 1868 and 1912, wrote The Japan Times writer, Taiga Uranaka recently.

The solution to this, according to the report, is to stimulate the body to produce the antibody, IgE, which helps prevents such allergic reactions.

And if you are thinking of achieving this through some form of a pharmaceutical remedy, you are not nearly as correct.

The solution is rather "traditional" or "natural", namely by cultivating tapeworms as a parasite in one's body so as to contaminate it.

This "innovative" idea comes from a study of tropical diseases in Kalimantan, Indonesia, in which it is believed that the parasite could offer a long-term solution, pun aside.

In the Kalimantan study, children are noted to be allergy-free and have "beautiful skin" instead, allegedly due to parasite infestations from bathing in polluted Indonesian rivers.

Demonstrating the point, the parasitologist himself cultivated tapeworms in his intestine for the last four years.

The theory is that the human body has developed a "symbiotic relationship" with a number of parasites and germs, and that getting rid of them altogether from the body can make the person more vulnerable to other diseases.

Moreover, the deluge of anti-parasitic and anti-bacterial commercial household products has made people over-conscious over cleanliness worsening the current situation, almost to a fanatical level.

But not everyone is taking the tapeworm solution seriously. The parasitologist complained he is being ridiculed by sarcastic remarks by fellow colleagues, and not being invited to important meetings to present his work. Funding by corporate sponsors also ceased when he declared that "obsession with cleanliness is a bad thing".

But whatever the merit of the situation, it goes to show any form of obsession is not a good thing, including allowing too many tapeworms invading the body!


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