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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK


Stomach ulcers to be 'kicked into touch'

Not all is well in the beautiful city of Florence

Gutted by England's defeat in the World Cup? Unfortunately that could be literally true.

Researchers in Italy have found a link between watching football and the development of stomach ulcers.

Anya Sitaram reports from Florence, Italy
As the BBC's Tomorrow's World programme reports this week a doctor in Florence noticed than whenever the local Serie A team, Fiorentina, loses a match there is a correlating increase in the number of men visiting his clinic suffering from stomach ulcers.

Ulcers are caused by a virulent bacteria living in the gut called Helicobacter Pylori which seems to multiply at times of stress when the immune system is low.

This would explain why the Fiorentina fans suffer most every time their beloved team lose.

A stressful event

[ image: Dr Bonanomi: discovered the football link]
Dr Bonanomi: discovered the football link
Dr Bonanomi, the gastroenterologist who stumbled upon the problem, said: "This could be a bad problem for Fiorentina fans who suffer from chronic stomach disorders.

"The game can be a very stressful event. Anticipating the result of the match can be so stressful that it can cause a great deal of pain."

Silvano, a Fiorentina fan for 50 years, has developed stomach ulcers.

He said: "I really get upset if Fiorentina lose - especially if they don't play too well. And if we lose because the referee makes a bad decision - I'm even more angry."

Short term solution

[ image: Argentina and Fiorentina star Gabriel Batistuta: stomach churning?]
Argentina and Fiorentina star Gabriel Batistuta: stomach churning?
At present the only treatment is a dose of powerful antibiotics to kill the bacteria - but it provides only temporary respite.

Dr Bonanomi said: "Antibiotics is only a short term measure. The problem is that antibiotics may not kill all the bacteria - a few may be left.

"When the complaint flares up again, the bacteria modifies itself, making it resistant to the antibiotic used the first time around. The bacteria can return in a matter of weeks, and the patient is back to square one."

Vaccine work

The problem, however, could soon be solved. Doctors in Italy are working on a vaccine to eradicate the H-Pylori bacteria.

The work has not been easy. When the body is infected with the H-Pylori bacteria it activates the wrong type of defence cells. Instead of killing the bug, they inflame the stomach wall, which can cause ulcers.

The new vaccine changes the body's natural immune response so that cells which can kill the bacteria are switched on.

Initial animal trials on the vaccine are already underway and human trials will start soon. It is hoped that the vaccine will be widely available by the year 2002.

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