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Richard Mitchell

The secret
of being a successful

Aren't germs stupid? Goodness knows how many years they have had to evolve -- at least the same as us since we were a unicellular lifeform in a puddle in the Cainozoic together -- and killing you or giving you spots or the sniffles or the trots is the best they can do?


A little thought would show our bacterial and viral brothers/sisters that there is a better way for all concerned. A way which would make germs loved instead of loathed, feared and dettol-ed, which would lead us to actively welcome and share them, and delight in each new infection.

Imagine if you will that you are a bacterium. You find a host body with a nice damp niche, and move in. Food and water are abundant, and before you can say geometric progression, so are you. Here's where thing start to go wrong. By producing toxic waste products, you make your host feel sick, and like the host in your local who reaches for the baseball bat when he feels his hospitality is being abused, your host reaches for the amoxycillin.

You shrivel up and die, and your host may go the same way. Should he recover, he is unlikely to thank you for the experience, and you and you kind will not be welcome back.

Now, biotechnology has shown the way. Instead of the toxic unpleasantness of a traditional infection, you could produce something the host body actually could use.

Biotechnology is producing designer drugs cheaply and in bulk. It shouldn't be impossible for you as a bacterium with a bit of gumption to follow suit.

Just devote a little of your spare time to producing a substance beneficial, or at least pleasurable to your host.

Something to give a cocaine-like high would  be overkill. But although producing grade 1 Charlie would be perfectly practicable,  all you need is something like phenolanyline (blessed opiate, the addictive principle that makes chocolate so irresistible).

The joy of a mars bar without the calories, the feeling of well-being that only comes halfway through a Kg of Lindt without the migraines. And all the time - how your host would bless your little mitochondria.

If instead of going mad and overwhelming the host you can exercise a little self control, your infection should last for weeks, and your host will be as happy to share you with his friends as they are to catch you.

Now, obviously, you would be looking at a pandemic here. Start making people pleased they are infected, and sooner or later, you are everywhere and in everyone and there is nowhere further to go.

Here is where the Darwinism of the free market in infections kicks in. Other germs, seeing your success would want a bit of it. They too will start producing the goods. Here, a sniffle leads to an amphetamine high, and people catch a cold to go and party all weekend. There, a rash becomes a major antidepressant, letting travellers commute into London, with just a murmur and a good scratch.

Before you know it, competition for the most enjoyable disease sets in. Germs are jumping over each other to give people new and innovatively  beneficial infections, hosts can pick and choose and the world becomes a nicer, if less healthy place.

If any germs are reading, here are some ideas -

Symptoms  similar to strong continental lager. Mild infections cause cheerfulness and a tendency to forget about going back this afternoon, severe cases make sufferers say "your my best mate, you are" and fall over.

A ladies complaint. Effects -  going mad in Marks & Spencer,  splurging in the high street, popping into Harvey Nicks, splashing out in Monsoon.

Causes the aforementioned to become stiff and swell. Popular at parties, especially with men, who think it is a complement.

Nervous condition, causing soppy people to sharpen up, and throw out cuddly toys, esp. rabbits.

Causes you to cough whenever you have sex - and more important, vice versa...

(c) Richard Mitchell 2002