That’s right, 240,000 tonnes. The amount of antibiotics used worldwide every year.
More than enough for a 25mg dose to every man, woman and child on the planet. Overuse or what?
Overuse – and abuse
But not just for medical purposes. Not just for saving lives and fighting infection.
Most of these antibiotics are pumped daily into farm livestock – ostensibly to keep them healthy, in reality to bulk them up for market – to accelerate their growth so they’re four times the size in a quarter of the time.
Amoxicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline, erythromycin, vancomycin, you name it – all types that we’re familiar with and have probably taken ourselves at some stage – all get fed to the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep and pigs that feed the world.
Together they account for around 75% of the total 240,000 tonnes world antibiotics output.
You got that right, three quarters of the antibiotics the world chomps through every year are for non-medical use. No wonder we have a problem with antimicrobial resistance.
Bacteria always win
No wonder that savvy bacteria – one of the most successful and longest-surviving life forms of all time – have developed ways to overcome whatever we throw at them. With that kind of volume, they’ve even learned over the years how pass their immunity on to others.
It’s now perfectly possible for a doctor to begin treatment for an illness never seen before, only to find it already has a resistance to every drug in the medicine cupboard. Even colistin and carbapenem, normally held in reserve as drugs of last resort, have been found to be ineffective.
Well sure, global demand for colistin in agriculture was expected to reach 11,942 tonnes per annum by the end of 2015 – generating an income of US$229·5 million – and rising to 16,500 tonnes by 2021.
Result, our defences are breached, there’s no more left in the cupboard.
Doctors are now fighting a rear-guard action and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is spelling the total collapse of modern medicine. No more heart bypasses or hip replacements, no more caesarean births – without effective infection control, this is the end.
The world in denial
So all of a sudden, the clamour is on to find new antibiotics. Not 240,000 tonnes of old ones.
Lord Jim O’Neill, AMR adviser to the Prime Minister, has even suggested that drug companies should be forced into researching them – a big stick to be sweetened by cash handouts and incentives if necessary.
Nice one, Jim. Except with 240,000 tonnes regular output, those companies are not exactly strapped for cash.
At 20p for a single 25mg dose of say, amoxicillin, that’s £1.9 billion they’re raking in every year, just from their ka-chunk-ka-chunk machines going round the clock to keep the farmers happy.
In the meantime, resistant bacteria are growing all the time – and getting away with murder.
Which means throwing money at developing new antibiotics is a losing battle anyway. Bacteria always win – so it could be only months, or a best a few years, before the latest wonder-drug also winds up being useless.
And what happens when AMR spreads to shut down agriculture as well? 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep and pigs suddenly peg off – and the next thing is world famine.
You see, nobody wants to face the elephant in the room. That antibiotics are over. Lifesavers while they lasted, but now they’re finished. Even beginning to kill more of us than they’re saving.
What the money needs to be spent on – agricultural profits and cash incentives combined – is a serious REPLACEMENT. Abandoning antibiotics altogether and developing alternatives like bacteriophages – harnessing VIRUSES to destroy pathogenic bacteria.
Alongside that, we need to jack up our cleanliness levels across the board. Without antibiotics as a safety net for careless and dirty habits, proper hygiene becomes essential. Washing hands whenever possible – removing all health hazards.
Which means sterilising our workplaces too. To protect ourselves from each other as much as from germs. Schools, hospitals, public buildings, restaurants, entertainment places all need the same treatment. The best way to avoid infection is not to expose ourselves to germs in the first place.
Money, money money. It’s a world wide crisis.
Let’s hope those drug companies wake up in time and stop worrying about their 240,000 tonnes.
AMR can wipe them out just as quickly as us ordinary folk.
In the UK, fully two thirds of us are already clinically overweight or obese – 1.4 billion worldwide. Already on the downhill slope to serious health complications – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma. Known killers with a combined death rate of 30 million a year worldwide – and rapidly accelerating.
How did this happen? We’re not stupid, we’re not irresponsible.
Damn it, we’re not even confirmed gluttons, for goodness sake. Sure, some fat people eat like there’s no tomorrow – but most of us are miserable with our weight and eat like birds.
It’s as if we’re cursed.
Oh yes, indeed – there’s a curse alright. For far too many of us, obesity is a long and lasting illness ending in a death sentence.
We can play around with diets, we can delude ourselves with exercise – and for a lucky and very determined few, maybe that will work.
For the rest of us, there is no escape. Like it or not, at some time in the future we’ll be going to hospital more and more often – closer and closer to our one-way ticket with destiny.
The curse of antibiotics
Most unpalatable of all is the truth of how we got here.
“It is impossible to be obese unless one is eating too many calories,” said Lord McColl, emeritus professor of surgery at Guys Hospital, in an address to the House of Lords last week.
Yeah right, we’re dying of hunger and ridiculed as fatties, what the hell’s going on?
The real curse is antibiotics.
Miracle lifesavers in the medical field, miracle money-makers in agriculture.
Because antibiotics are champion growth promoters bar none. Added to livestock feed in small doses every day, they boost growth like crazy, accelerate development up to four times faster. From egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years.
And the same thing is happening to us.
We eat them, so small traces of antibiotics get through in our diet with every meal we eat. Either directly from their meat, or indirectly from the manure they produce – laced through with antibiotics that fertilise every kind of vegetable and fruit crop.
Just like the animals, the antibiotics make our bodies resistant to the hormone that tells us when we’ve had enough to eat – leptin resistance – we keep eating unconsciously. As Lord McColl says, ” Obesity is a hormonal disorder leading to abnormal energy partitioning, which cannot be solely fixed by increasing exercise.”
Growth promoters – the fat makers
Unfortunately, that’s not all that antibiotics do. As champion growth promoters, they make us more efficient at absorbing the nutrients we do consume. Even if we’re not eating more, we’re EXTRACTING more – squeezing out more calories than normal people are capable of.
Not difficult when you think how digestive systems work. As part of Nature’s wonderful cycle that interrelates everything to everything else, most livestock only digest 80-90% of what they eat, the rest is excreted as waste. That’s where the manure comes from that fertilises almost all commercial plant life – and where we get our daily dose of antibiotics from, pooed out with other nutrients.
But antibiotics cause animals to grab a whole chunk more nosh value than just 10%. Squeezing more calories out, they beef up bigger and faster – and we do exactly the same. Instead of passing through 80%, we might pass through 60% or even 50%. Without our knowing it, we’re absorbing the equivalent of two meals instead of one, every time we eat.
No wonder we’re the size of a house without any effort!
And all the rest
Which is how come we’re obese – and how come we’ve developed all those other disorders that have crept up on us since bacteria-killing antibiotics started messing with the delicate balance of our own internal gut bacteria. Allergies, immune system deficiencies – phantom disorders that feel very real, making our bodies react to conditions that just aren’t there.
Is there anything that can be done about it?
Not a lot.
We all have to eat – but round the world, our food production process is a gigantic machine almost impossible to stop.
We could try to eat less – deliberately try to bring our calorie count down. Going serious cold turkey, like giving up smoking. Very, very hard if you’ve never tried. But we NEED those nutrients to keep our systems ticking over. Starving ourselves is dicey and unlikely to be healthy.
Or we can change our food source. Get off the antibiotics and hope that by removing our daily fix, we can reverse some of the damage they’ve done. Which means organic foods, growing our own at home without fertilisers – and eating fish that’s only deep sea fresh, none of the farmed stuff.
Ways of winning
Which leaves exercise. We’re small eaters already, shamed by our bodies – so with antibiotics off the menu together with some sensible workouts, maybe expending energy will be a little less like pushing water uphill.
There is hope. Reducing even a teaspoon of fat from around our pancreas can have the effect of reversing type 2 diabetes.
One down, fewer to go.
With luck you’ll lose more of the right kind of weight before any of the other big hitters kick in.
Not nice, norovirus. It stops you doing nice things too.
Holidays, celebrations, momentous occasions – the ultimate party pooper.
So here’s a guide to help you avoid it. To side-step catching it in the first place, and protect yourself when other people around you come down with it.
You can be unlucky, of course. But nine times out of ten, these simple tips should help you stay out of trouble.
First off, know that norovirus is very, very virulent – an unpleasant illness on a hair trigger that is easily touched off. Other viruses and most bacteria need at least 20 or 30 cells to attack you with if they’re going to infect you.
Norovirus only needs half that, which makes it twice as dodgy. A nasty, horrible illness that’s super-contagious – spread mostly by touch, but also in the air. Get it on your fingers, your clothing or your skin and you have to be really careful.
It’s also pernicious, at home anywhere and able to survive on most surfaces for over a month. And since it spreads so easily, anything touched by other people is a possible contact point – especially high-touch objects like door handles, grab rails, light switches, phones, keypads and cutlery you eat with.
How does it get into your body?
Usually through your mouth. You can breathe it in or swallow it, either on contaminated food or anything eaten with your fingers.
Which means everybody’s favourite fast foods – hot dogs, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, fish and chips, chicken drumsticks, wraps, crisps, biscuits, cake – all the easy fast foods.
Or if you’re on holiday – olives, pitta, humous, shawarmas, kebabs, falafel, Tex-Mex favourites like tacos, fajitas, tamales, burritos and tortillas – not to mention churros, pancakes, baklava or a good dripping cone of ice cream.
Yup, all the nice stuff when you’re having a nice time. Indulgent, spur-of-the-moment, soul-boosting street-food. Tasty, tactile, goodness oozing from your fingers – you know the score.
But note the common denominator – all finger food. Stuff you can scoff with your hands, right in the middle of doing something else. Or anything with a lot of handling by others around you – tear-and-share, buffets, smorgasbords, group curries.
All easily contaminated by just one person’s unclean fingers –including yours.
Finger-lickin’ good, maybe – fingers pointing at trouble more like.
Big tummy trouble.
And that’s the bummer.
Because most of the time we eat without thinking because our hands LOOK clean. Yet realistically our fingers could be loaded with all kinds of yuk too small to see – a single norovirus cell is just 2 microns across, about a 10,000th the width of a human hair.
It floats around easily in the air, lighter than cigarette smoke. And settles invisibly on your skin, scraping together easily with its brothers and sisters as you wipe your hand across – groups of 20, 500, 1,000 cells, all ready to go.
Which brings us to Reality Check One – most norovirus attacks are self-inflicted. The stuff is already on our skin and we don’t even know it. We let our hygiene lapse at the wrong moment – and four hours later it’s cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea like we don’t ever want to believe.
Like the nagging granny in our heads keeps reminding us – WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS.
If only it was that easy.
Because when does anyone get the chance, on the go most of the time – especially on holiday?
But unfortunately, that’s not good enough if you want to skip the spoil-sport tummy-torture. All it needs is ONE slip up, one forgetful moment with unwashed paws, and you’ll be chundering through the next few days.
One in the eye
Uh huh. So here’s a memory jogger.
You’re on the beach, yeah? Slapping on the suntan lotion. You wipe your hands down, but somehow, you touch your face – and the stuff gets in your eye.
Yeow, itch, instant anguish. Your whole day scuppered till you get back to the hotel, rinse your eye out and sit there with a damp cloth to your face for an hour. But let that tell you something.
That’s how norovirus works.
It’s a fact of life that we touch our faces all the time – 2,000-3,000 times a day for some of us. And that’s norovirus’s easiest way into our bodies – through the soft tissue of our eyes and mouth.
Suntan lotion on your fingers just loses you a day. Norovirus on your fingers can screw your whole holiday – or your wedding, or your graduation, or anything else it’s the pits to lose out on.
Yeah, so you know the drill.
WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS. Particularly after going to the loo – and always before food.
From lo-giene to hygiene
Shocking revelation isn’t it, to sit down to this slap-up dinner after a wonderful day – and suddenly realise that with all the places you’ve been and things you’ve done, you haven’t washed your hands since breakfast?
So Reality Check Two – handling norovirus means hiking our personal hygiene to a whole different level. Day-to-day, what we’re living with most of the time is “low-giene”.
Yeah, yeah, dirty hands. But you see these reports all the time, lots of people all getting sick at the same – what about food poisoning? Don’t vendors and restaurants serve food that’s contaminated?
For sure. And we all know the cause. Either the food itself is off, or is touched in preparation by someone with dirty hands.
Not as common as you might think, because anywhere that sells food wants to be in business today AND tomorrow. They also have laws to follow, standards to observe, codes of practice. So most of the time, they DO take care. A law suit could cost big money – and easily be the end of them.
So how can you tell if it’s self-inflicted or food poisoning?
Your fault or theirs?
Reality Check Three – the vomiting, the diarrhoea, they’re earth-shatteringly violent because that’s how norovirus spreads itself – as far and wide as possible, very quickly.
Even so, it takes time to assert itself – and from that, you can often tell how it started.
If an outbreak happens in ones and twos, it’s probably triggered by an individual – either from unwashed hands or by suspect food from an external source – something eaten before they arrived where you are. Unwashed hands most likely – suspect self-inflicted
If a whole crowd of people comes down together, that suggests they were exposed simultaneously – some kind of shared experience. That could be either from something they’ve eaten – they were all served the same dish at the same time. Unwashed hands most likely again – though this time in preparing a popular food dish – suspect staff hygiene lapse, or dodgy food source.
Norovirus also triggers by mishap, as happened in a Swiss hotel – bad luck for everyone in the place, who all came down with it at once. Flash flooding from a cloudburst overwhelmed the drains, forcing guests and staff to wade through water backed up from the toilets.
An outbreak was inevitable, however much everyone washed themselves and their clothes – furniture, fittings and all facilities were all heavily contaminated – instant infection until they were destroyed and the whole building sanitised.
Bad, bad boomerang
Which leads to Realty Check Four – the norovirus boomerang effect. The virus returns very easily to cause repeat outbreaks if it is not completely and utterly removed after the hit in the first place.
Cruise liners are really prone to this for two reasons. Lots of people close together in shared eating and living space, handling the same objects. Plus millions of nooks and crannies where the virus can hide during even the most rigorous scrub-downs.
The handling thing is a nightmare, as there are endless things that everybody touches that can pass on by contact. Called fomites, these germ-transfer items include glasses, knives and forks, deck chairs, gym equipment, poker chips, playing cards, courtesy bibles, whatever – all of which have to be individually sanitised to avoid repeats.
Repeat outbreaks happened recently with Fred Olsen Line’s Balmoral – struck down 6 times since 2009 – and a latest misfortune just last month that ruined an Old England to New England cruise for hundreds of passengers.
Holland America Line’s Caribbean cruise liner Amsterdam was also unlucky – having to cancel four trips in succession because of repeat outbreaks in 1982. It got so bad, the ship had to be taken out of service to ensure thorough decontamination – and new passengers were even warned before embarking that the ship had previously had problems it couldn’t get rid of.
Get out of jail, free
Doom and gloom? Avoid holidays like the plague?
You can just as easily catch norovirus at home, just by forgetting to wash your hands.
And that’s the key to a perfect holiday, even the stay-at-home kind. Always wash your hands before putting anything in your mouth. And keep your hands clean too. Your fingers might be safe, but the things you touch with them are almost certainly not – indoors or outdoors, germs are a reality we have to live with.
Recognising that, plan for when you can’t wash your hands too.
Always carry hand-wipes, even if they’re not antibacterial. Easy enough to use, right at the dinner table – and doing it properly will get rid norovirus and 99.9% of all other germs.
Handbag size antibacterial gel is good too – the alcohol base kills germs, though is not as effective as physically wiping them away.
Beyond that, be careful.
If somebody close to you comes down with norovirus, you don’t need to get it too. Obviously avoid accident areas of vomit or diarrhoea. Keep well clear, the yuk can spread several feet in all directions.
If you’re involved in a clean-up, wear gloves, cover your nose and mouth too. Wash all over thoroughly afterwards and discard your clothes for thorough washing too.
Clean beyond normal
Be aware though that normal disinfecting is unlikely to go far enough. The whole place needs a good going-over, especially every last nook and cranny if the virus is not to come back again.
Almost impossible with scrubbing and bleach, the easy way is with ionised hydrogen peroxide – misted up into the air by a Hypersteriliser and electrostatically charged so it disperses actively in all directions, killing airborne and surface germs deep into every crack and crevice.
All viruses and bacteria dead, no boomerang, no nothing.
Wait up, hold it! An itty-bitty dirt is not manslaughter.
The place is cleaned daily. Professional hit teams. Vacuumed, dusted, wiped clean – all waste removed, toilets thoroughly disinfected.
Clean, but not always safe
Yeah good, but not you’re off the hook by any means.
OK, so you apply precautions where they’re needed. Hard hat on the shop floor – goggles, gloves, protective boots – full hazmat if necessary.
Health & Safety, right? Nothing gets past you.
That’s why the cleaning teams, naturally. Duty of care and all that jazz.
Until Freddie in Exports has a seizure at his desk and is DOA at the hospital.
Ignorance is no excuse
OK, so you weren’t to know. An underlying condition he never spoke about. It was there in his records, but he always looked chipper. Worked harder than anyone else, always in the middle of things. Triggered by an everyday bug doing the rounds – flu probably, it felled several others on the Third Floor.
It happens. Changeable weather, hot and cold in the same day – rain one minute, heatwave the next. Everybody is exposed.
Hold that thought, exposed.
Like to asbestos, or carbon monoxide? Don’t both of those carry criminal penalties? That’s not you, surely?
Ah, but it is. Even if it happens unknowingly.
But hang on – gross negligence? Manslaughter? That’s a bit heavy, isn’t it?
Stick to the facts, Freddie DIED, didn’t he?
Duty of care
Because you’re supposed to know – to ensure that your workplace is safe for employees. It’s the due diligence edge of duty of care – the bit with teeth.
Alright, so ask yourself, IS your workplace safe for employees?
Ordinary office space, with the usual bullpen arrangement. The cleaning team do a good job, nothing to worry about, right?
Depends how well they clean, how thorough they are at both removing the dirt AND removing any germs. Dirt equals germs, that’s THEIR mission.
Uh huh. And it’s YOURS to make sure it’s done right.
Like wiping down the desks – routine stuff, a piece of cake.
Make that a maybe.
Good old bleach
Usual procedure involves a damp cloth, it takes away the fine grit that gets everywhere – and removes the dust bunnies. With luck, it’s soaked in sodium hypochlorite – otherwise known as bleach – to disinfect as it cleans, oxidising germs away.
At least, that’s the theory.
But germs don’t just roll over and die, that depends on contact time. And contact time for bleach is ten to fifteen minutes to be effective, depending on concentration. Strong enough to start a nasty headache if you’re working with it, and likely to take the skin of your hands off. Diluted, it just does nothing. Which begins to make manslaughter a possibility.
Because don’t say you’re not aware of the health hazards on the average office desk. Daily media brings that up several times a year – scare tactics to sell more newspapers. Typically, any desk in your office is likely to harbour at least 10 million germs, before or after cleaning. Remember now?
And it’s true, absolutely gospel.
Check out your workstations after they’ve been processed – a Heineken inspection of the parts that ordinary cleaning rag can’t reach. Lift the keyboards, look behind the display screens – and how about round the coils of wire connecting all those CPUs?
One word for it, gruesome.
10 million germs? Quite possibly more.
And you’re exposing your staff to those germs, just by doing nothing. Coughs, colds, flu virus, food poisoning, norovirus – it was only a matter of time before poor Freddie copped it.
And money talks
Anyway, if nowhere else, you’ve got to see it show up on your P&L. Staff absenteeism from sickness regularly costs the country – and businesses like yours – a whopping £29 billion a year. How can anyone afford that?
All of which means that – good though they are – your cleaning service are not up to the job. At least not from the disinfecting angle. AND you’re losing a bomb each year from staff sickies.
It also means, if you stop and think about it, that you ARE culpable for poor Freddie’s death. Not intentionally, mind – but responsible none the less. Just as you would be for the rest of your staff – because these days, who DOESN’T have an underlying condition?
Everybody’s got something
Go round the office – how many of your staff are 100% fit? How many wear glasses – does your lighting minimise eye strain? How many smoke – does your aircon handle it, and how many are already candidates for COPD? How many stuff themselves on fast food and have IBS?
And how many don’t wash their hands when they go to the loo – then touch everything else in the office: files, memos, keypads, phones, photocopiers, light switches – and perpetually call in sick?
And don’t get us started on the office air.
Breathe deep, if you dare
Most germs are so small at 2 microns or less, they’re probably airborne more than they infest surfaces anyway. On top of which, every single one of us is pulling around our own personal aura of bacteria, viruses, fungus and body detritus like hair and dead skin – the place is literally crawling.
Your whole staff is exposed to all this – including you – and you still reckon Freddie is nothing to do with you?
Especially when you realise that it’s all preventable, that Freddie didn’t have to die.
Yeah sure, with a heart condition like he had, it was going to happen some time – but with proper due diligence, it didn’t have to happen on your watch. Or if it did, as long as you’d taken every precaution beforehand, his demise was unfortunate but inevitable.
Safe and secure
Because the dead easy way to protect your staff from exposure to germs is to treat the place regularly after hours with a Hypersteriliser – a wheelie-bin sized automatic machine that just makes the problem disappear.
Press one button and an ultra-fine dry mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide fills the whole air space and pushes up hard against every surface – oxidising ALL viruses and bacteria to oblivion in just seconds.
Allow forty minutes or so to disperse throughout the whole volume area – and the entire room is sterile. No germs for anyone to catch, no sickness, no complications. No noxious residue either, the stuff breaks down into oxygen and water.
Plus, with any luck, you get a major dip in absenteeism. Money in the bank, whichever way you look at it.
And a whole lot better than gross negligence manslaughter.
We don’t see terrorists coming. We don’t see the dangers of antibiotics either – both of them set to nuke us when we least expect it.
A terrorist bomb might take out a city the size of Greater Manchester – thousands dead, hundreds of thousands more facing years of radiation sickness – like being dead before it actually happens.
Antibiotics are no prettier.
An invisible war
Because to the trillions and trillions of beneficial bacteria in our own gut, nukes are exactly what antibiotics are. Evil invaders who only want to destroy. Mass killers.
Imagine Greater Manchester, millions of times over. That’s what life is like down there in our insides, more bacteria than there are human cells. Reality is, we’re a harmonious, co-existing miracle that’s 90% germs.
Now comes an oral dose of antibiotics – amoxicillin, say – prescribed for some troubling ailment, often unnecessarily. Trillions and trillions of microscopic but benevolent bacteria – versus 250 mg of devastating nuclear destruction.
A massive chunk of your gut, nuked to nothing.
You’re right. The medicine might clobber whatever the problem is – but the body will never return to exactly the way it was. Too many innocent bystanders caught in the fallout. Billions killed, vital diversity reduced. The system is not as strong as the way it was, no longer as all-round resilient.
But there are survivors. Maybe a bit damaged, or not fully functioning – but wise to what antibiotics are capable of, and aware of what they need to do to escape. Next time, even more will endure. And even more after that.
Until the day comes that an antibiotic hits the gut, and our bacteria are impervious. Even to nukes.
Our bacteria have learned how to resist the drugs – even shared their survival skills with others, so all of them are immune. Antimicrobial resistance it’s called – AMR. Wish we could have the same resistance to terrorists.
Except big-scale calamities are not usually the way terrorists work, are they? 9/11 doesn’t happen every day.
More effective – and more insidious – are the little attacks that do. Happen every day, that is. Always there, never letting up, determined to bring us down, little by little. Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan theatre, Brussels airport.
The real killers
Exactly like antibiotics do.
Better believe it.
Because without our even thinking about it, we’re swallowing down antibiotics into our gut little by little with every meal.
In the milk with our corn flakes. In the oats for our porridge. In our bacon and eggs. In the chicken for our sandwich, and the lettuce with it. In the bangers and mash for tea, including in the baked beans.
Little hand grenades in our gut, or letting loose with a machine pistol. Nothing serious, but always damage. Little bits of us that suddenly aren’t working any more.
How is this possible?
It all started back in 1946, when a researcher named Moore discovered the growth stimulation of antibiotics fed to chicks. A colleague named Jukes reached the same conclusion in 1952 – feed small amounts of antibiotics to livestock every day, and they bulk up like crazy.
Money, money, money. Fat, fatter, fattest.
And did we mention money?
Today, 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics are pumped into farm livestock every year. Bigger, better, fatter than ever – and more of them. Enabling our own human world population to explode from 2½ billion in the 1950s, to 7½ billion now.
And of course, all these animals poo – excreting, would you believe, more than 75% of the nutrients they consume – including the antibiotics. “In 2002, 185 million swine sold in the US generated about 280 million tons of fresh manure; in 2006, chicken produced even more (460 million tons), while, in 2007, beef cattle produced 3.6 million tons of manure.”
Knee-deep in trouble
Used as fertiliser for all kinds of agricultural crops – fruit, veg, cereals, grains. And of course feedstuffs for livestock – so that farm animals re-eat the same antibiotics they ate before, with the same effect.
They keep getting fatter and fatter, growing faster and faster – and making more and more money.
Must be tough, being an antibiotics manufacturing company. 240,000 tonnes of stuff turned out by machine ka-chunk-ka-chunk, no effort, no investment – just keep rolling and take the money. No need to invest in new research, the goldmine is already working overtime.
Need proof? Just check your own waistline.
Bigger than it was, huh? You didn’t always wear a Size 16.
But look around, it’s not just you – this is a world-wide epidemic. Two-thirds of us are already way overweight or positively obese. All thanks to the same trigger that makes farm animals fat too – antibiotics.
Whatever food we ingest, antibiotics are in there somewhere. Directly in the food, or absorbed from manure-enriched soil, or leached through into our river systems so even the water we drink is spiked. Antibiotics pollution.
Too big for our own good
Result: obesity is a condition we’re all of us beginning to share – and no way is that healthy.
In fact it’s deadly.
Check the numbers and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – which means illnesses that cannot be treated by antibiotics – kills about 50,000 of us a year.
But obesity works like the terrorist’s nuclear bomb – wide-reaching, slow-acting, with extreme pain and suffering. The equivalent of radiation sickness – attacking our bodies in the form of diabetes, heart disease, cancer or worse – killing 30 million of us or more every year, and climbing all the time.
Yup – long-term, obesity is going to get most of us. Looking forward to 20 years of medicines, time off in bed, hospital visits, and feeling more and more unwell – more pressure on the NHS than any of us could ever imagine.
Two-thirds of adults – world-wide that’s around 3 billion people. Which kinda makes deaths from AMR look like chicken-feed.
Worse than any terrorist, nuke or no nuke. Worse than any threat we’ve ever faced before – including plagues and world wars.
Is there a solution?
Stop, stop, stop
Short term, eat only organic or ocean fresh – and drink only rainwater.
Long term, STOP USING ANTIBIOTICS and find a replacement.
Anything less and we might as well nuke ourselves.
Some nasty bug – a killer variant of cholera – spread by contaminated food.
Not from your five-star beach hotel of course.
But from your fingers.
Hidden dangers – unaware
Because of the crack-of-dawn start to your sight-seeing tour. A mad dash to the loo before you held the coach up. The market, the temple, the boat-trip, the beach barbie. An amazing day – but without one chance to wash your hands. Or even think about it.
A sizzling plate of food and you’re about to dive in – until you check the grubby fingerprints on your water glass.
Ew, that was you! A whole day’s yuck on your hands – which you don’t even see because germs are too small.
But you excuse yourself anyway and head for the bathroom – all glitter and glass and wafting incense. And luckily for you, a good sensible soap and running hot water.
Grubby fingerprints gone. Gunge from the handrails, manky stuff in the street, don’t-ask from the funny place – and yes, you’re not even aware of it, but faecal residue as well – poo from the loo.
Back home of course, you might get away with it. At worst a touch of norovirus and gone. Not nice while it happens, but you’ll survive. A reminder to ALWAYS wash your hands.
Not quite the same on holiday, especially in hot countries. Germs breed easier, transfer easier – and are very often more deadly. Not worth the risk. And totally avoidable if you wash your hands.
Of course that’s our problem isn’t it?
Our hands don’t LOOK dirty, so we think they’re clean. We’re just not dirt-aware enough to keep remembering. But who wants norovirus – or worse, to come home from their holiday in a box?
Keeping them clean is a schlep too, because germs are everywhere – billions and billions of viruses and bacteria – on every surface, in the air, on our own skin except where we’ve washed our hands. Everything might look harmless, but in reality is a potential nightmare, especially at the office.
OK, we can’t do much about germs surrounding us outside in the open, but we can do something about them in our living space. And the way we are with out modern lifestyles, we spend 90% of our time indoors anyway.
Uh huh. Not exactly the healthiest. WE might be harmless to ourselves, but indoors is a space we share with lots of others – school, work, eating out, entertainment.
Personal germ clouds
And every single one of us carries around our own swirling cloud of hidden bacteria – so uniquely distinct to each of us that cops in the near future will be able to ID we were there – just by reading our lingering germ-sign.
Which adds up to germs on everything around us – and clouds of germs towed around by others surrounding us. So easy to pick up – by breathing or touching something – and then absently touching our mouth or eyes.
What could it be? Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, or escherichia coli? Enough to hospitalise us if they’re bad, or finish us off if we’re unlucky. Or sometimes even worse. How about that cholera variant you had that close call with – from other colleagues back from holiday?
But like soap and water takes germs off your hands, you can take away the germs surrounding you too. Kinda important if you have an underlying medical condition that maybe even you don’t know about. Or one of your colleagues does – and a simple infection triggers a whole life-threatening experience.
Safe and sterile
Which is why all kinds of places are using ionised hydrogen peroxide – misting up their rooms to take down all viruses and bacteria. Safe and sterile every morning, in addition to clean floors and empty waste bins. No smells, no germs, no health problems.
Lucky escapes every day. And you never have to worry about them.
No, no, not death that’s anything to do with your doctor.
If you’re on antibiotics right now, they’ll probably save your life. And your doctor is a professional, she knows what she’s doing.
Short term if you’re ill, antibiotics are a life saver. They also present us with the same sentence, though – impossible though it seems. Death by antibiotics is an uncomfortable reality.
Except the choice is largely ours – quick or slow, it’s up to us.
First the quick way. It could be days, it could be months – but if we’re careless or unlucky, death is only too possible.
Like, if you’re taking antibiotics and you don’t finish the course. Or worse, if you dose yourself with some left over from last time. That’s you, not your doctor – and it’s you who will pay the price.
Bam, bam hammer
Think of antibiotics like a great big hammer that bashes your infection – bam, bam, bam! – repeated heavy blows to clobber your illness out of existence.
So what happens if the hammer doesn’t hit enough times, or only gives one feeble blow? Which is what happens when you don’t take all the pills.
The illness isn’t beaten, is it? Not totally defeated, so it lives on. Picks itself up and restores itself to its former strength – like something out of Terminator– bacteria are very good at this.
With one very vital difference.
They now know the hammer is coming, and are ready for it – have sussed how to dodge it, or just tough it out. So the hammer does nothing. It is ineffective. The illness has become resistant and is now unstoppable.
So your Doc has to find another kind of hammer, or a sword, or a whatever – a new way to attack your illness to make sure it’s totally annihilated. Another antibiotic that is still effective, not resisted against by infecting bacteria.
Which is exactly how antimicrobial resistance (AMR) develops – a big problem for modern medicine right now. Pathogenic bacteria is not hit hard enough or long enough, so they survive revitalised to live another day.
With ongoing immunity to overcome being hit again. Unstoppable. And untreatable.
Bacteria win – again
So through your own actions, it could be the end of you. Especially if complications set in and your own body doesn’t have the strength to fight them off. Sorry, unless you’re lucky, death is going to happen.
Then there’s the slow way.
Not something that any of us might feel right now, but possibly even MORE inevitable.
Because it’s already on the go.
Down in our insides, our own gut bacteria – the ones that keep us alive and process our digestion among thousands of other things – have already been clobbered by antibiotics and are reacting out of control.
How can we tell?
Check your waistline. How are you doing with the battle of the bulge?
If you’re like most of us adults, you’ve already noticed unwanted pounds piling on without you consciously knowing anything about it.
Not nice, overnight we’re fat – and getting fatter.
Not our fault. But not much we can do about it either.
Because that’s from residual antibiotics contained in the food we eat. From the 240,000 tons of the stuff that is fed to animal livestock around the world every year – vital veterinary support for the giant, super-intensive factory farms that supply us with meat, veg, greens, everything.
Unfortunately all too true – and this is where it gets messy. Because modern farms are not the nice cuddly places we see in picture books. And the animals are not as happy either.
Stressed, crowded and in shockingly unhygienic conditions , without antibiotics, those animals would die. Instead, they grow and thrive with amazing accelerated development – fattened up by antibiotics to sometimes twice the size – and in half the time – the farmer’s double jackpot.
Fast food – from the farmer’s angle. Money in the bank, quick, quick, quick.
Except by eating that same food, with every meal WE’RE ingesting those same antibiotics too. With the same effect on our gut bacteria that they had on the animals. They promote growth, big time.
Our kids grow up faster – almost adults before they even hit their teens. And we grow fatter. And fatter. All too soon swapping Size 16 for the misery of Size 18.
Yeah, welcome to obesity – our latest world-wide epidemic, courtesy of antibiotics.
With one hell of a price to pay.
Being overweight is not healthy, our bodies can’t cope. So we start on the slippery slope of chronic illnesses – diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many others. Slow, debilitating and degrading afflictions that take decades to develop – long, miserable illnesses that all lead to death.
Can we ever escape?
Only by being as healthy as we know how.
If we keep ourselves clean and free of germs, washing hands whenever we think of it, infections can never get to us, we don’t need antibiotics in the first place.
Same thing if we eat healthy – switching to organic, stepping away from mass-produced foods to home-grown wholesomeness and nary an antibiotic anywhere near them, ever. Not easy, but it can be done – though you’re unlikely to be visiting your supermarket again.
Which means you don’t have to choose at all now. You should live long and healthy.
Sure death happens to all of us, but it’s reassuring to know. Live right and it’s only going to happen when it’s supposed too.
Because we’re at the point where antibiotics are beginning not to work any more – and modern medicine is going critical. Straighten up and fly right, or dire things will happen.
Out with the big guns
We’d better believe it. According to our top-level heavyweights, it’s time to get tough. With big-stick tactics for getting it wrong.
Like naughty GPs, prescribing antibiotics without verifying there’s a need. Or naughty farmers, dosing livestock with antibiotics, just to fatten them up.
Haven’t they heard of antimicrobial resistance (AMR)? Don’t they realise that they’re helping dangerous bacteria develop immunity to the drugs we treat them with? That superbugs will soon be untouchable and antibiotics will be useless?
Yeah, some Plan B. Not really a plan at all.
Because it’s a fact of life that BACTERIA ALWAYS SURVIVE – and have done successfully for billions and billions of years. Which is why they’re possibly the most successful life-forms on the planet – able to withstand super-hot and super-cold, super-acid, super-dry, super-salty and super-pressure.
And we dare to think an itty-bitty antibiotic designed by humans is going to stop them.
Maybe hold them back for a few years, lulling us into a sense of false security.
Like hey, remember penicillin?
The original miracle wonder-drug. It saved lives for 12 years before the superbugs got wise to it. Staphylococcus in 1940 – cousin and relative of today’s superbug, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which itself took just 2 years to get in on the act.
But like we said, BACTERIA ALWAYS SURVIVE. They might take a few generations to do it – twenty minutes at a time – so for penicillin, that’s 315,360 generations. Zap – you can’t beat the numbers.
Because, surprise, surprise – among other skills, bacteria are actually able to “teach” each other immunity, passing on their resistance skills to even unrelated types
Yeah? And we think we’re so smart. Because while they’re doing it, the rest of our wonder-drugs store cupboard is rapidly emptying. We don’t wise up, do we?
Antibiotics: crashed and burned
Tetracycline lasted 9 years, until 1959; erythromycin 15 years; gentamycin 12 years; vancomycin 16 years; ceftazidime 2 years; levofloxacin not even 1 year; and ceftaroline the same.
And now colistin, our antibiotic of last resort – the one we turn to when all others have failed – can be resisted by bacteria too.
Get the message? The cupboard is bare.
Which means within our lifetime, without being able to control infection using antibiotics, even routine medical procedures such as caesarean births, hip replacements and heart bypasses will become impossible.
Which is why Lord Jim O’Neill, AMR Review chairman for the Prime Minister, insists that doctors should only issue antibiotics against medically verified proof that they are necessary.
Lord Jim also advocates that drug companies should be strong-armed into developing new antibiotics, to keep ahead of the rising tide of resistance, with cash money incentives if necessary.
Yeah, that would be good.
Mega-buck drugs companies
Especially when Lord Jim’s own review paper identifies that drug companies are currently producing up to 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics a year. Something must be wrong with their pricing structure if they can’t finance new product development out of volumes like that.
OK, so from Lord Jim’s perspective, unless we come up with an alternative, antibiotics will stop working altogether and we’re all going to die. Antibiotics Armageddon.
And that’s just for humans.
Except around 70% of antibiotics world-wide are used to support high intensity factory farming of animals – livestock for food production. 240,000 tonnes, remember?
Now ask yourself, so antibiotic resistance is dangerous to us humans, right? But the animals are only bred for food, their lifespans are very short, not really a problem, hey?
Wrong, big time.
Those animals are farmed so intensively, antibiotics are essential to keeping them alive at all. Stressful, over- crowded quarters, unsanitary conditions – in astronomically unbelievable numbers now vital to support the three-fold population explosion of humans since antibiotics were first discovered.
Food for 3 times as many humans – OFF THE SAME AVAILABLE LAND AREA – in just 50 years.
So what happens if antibiotic resistance hits the animals?
Well, exactly like us, they can’t survive either. Nor can they breed successfully to produce more.
Which very quickly means no more food, no more manure for intensive plant crops – a massive shortfall to bring famine to at least 5 billion people – the difference between the 2½ billion we were 50 years ago and the 7½ billion we are today.
You see, the big thing about antibiotics in food production is they fatten animals up fast. Four years of growth is telescoped into six months – which is how come farmers are able to feed 3 times as many humans – OFF THE SAME AVAILABLE LAND AREA in just 50 years.
And we eat those same animals, so we consume the same antibiotics they do in the food they provide – either directly through daily dosing feedstuffs, or picked up from their manure by plants fed to them as basic forage.
Uh huh. Which means we get fat too – the antibiotics do the same thing to us. Take a look around – yup, now you know why two thirds of all adults are overweight or obese.
Except our lifespans are not the same as theirs – two years and slaughtered, ready for market.
We go on for decades and decades. Getting fatter and fatter – coming down with all the ailments that obesity triggers – diabetes, heart disease, cancer, asthma. All of them massive killers, accounting for way more than the 50,000 a year in the US and UK who currently die of antibiotic-resistant superbugs – like close on 30 million.
You begin to get the picture?
Billions of deaths
Either directly or indirectly, our miracle wonder-drugs are going to be responsible for BILLIONS of deaths. And they are already doing it NOW.
A, we conk out now from some horrible resistant superbug. Or B, we take thirty years to die, getting worse every day from cancer or heart disease.
Thank you, antibiotics! Our killer lifesavers. Like smoking, only worse.
And bacteria are only one type of pathogenic microbes. AMR means antimicrobial resistance, right? All microbe types. So where’s our plan for viruses, fungi, archaea, protozoa, or algae?
Well the heck with Lord Jim, the best plan is right in our bathrooms.
Soap and water. To wash the bugs off our hands – their easiest way into our bodies – through the sensitive tissue of our eyes, nose and mouth.
Clean hands, no germs.
Kinda important when you consider that unconsciously, we touch our faces 2,000 – 3,000 times a day.
Clean hands, good.
Except now, don’t touch anything, because every single thing around us – including the air – is full of viruses and bacteria.
Shock, horror! At any second, we could be exposed to life-threatening pathogens that could be the end of us. Even a paper cut could lead to sepsis – and that’s the end of us.
Except we do have a second line of defence beyond soap and water – and pretty soon you’re going to see it in operation everywhere.
Ionised hydrogen peroxide. Misted up into the air from a mobile Hypersteriliser machine. A mild eco-friendly all-natural chemical – the body makes its own for germ-fighting – composed of only water and oxygen. Dynamically dispersed in all directions by electrostatic charge – the same charge that actively reaches out to grab viruses and bacteria, oxidising them to nothing.
No germs, the place is sterile.
No need for antibiotics, you’re not exposed to anything.
Prevention is better than cure.
Not exactly a Plan B, because it won’t fight infections already in the body – Lord Jim & Co need to focus on that.
Because big though the issue of antibiotics resistance is, what’s coming is far worse.
And all we’re doing right now is rearranging the deckchairs before we smash into that iceberg full speed with our eyes wide open.
We need a Plan B, PDQ.
You see, disaster though it is, antibiotics resistance – or antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as the professionals know it – is already a side issue. The collapse of modern medicine, yes. Maybe even the collapse of the world.
Lord Jim O’Neill, AMR Review chairman for the Prime Minister, sort of hinted at it in his official paper.
Mind you, he was using it to demand that future medical use of antibiotics be severely restricted – only made available once proving tests have been made to justify administering them.
Ah, but check out Page 5 of his Review – the section on Livestock Production. Note that yearly AGRICULTURAL use of antibiotics is estimated “from around 63,000 tonnes to over 240,000 tonnes.”
240,000 tonnes – do the math. That’s 240 billion milligrams – a 32 mg dose for every one of us 7½ billion people here on Earth, EVERY YEAR.
Small yes, a sub-therapeutic dose, but exactly what animals get in their feed to fatten them up for market – accelerate their growth to super-size, super-fast.
Uh huh. The animals are farmed for food – we eat them – the antibiotics in their systems are ingested into our own.
Which means two things.
Our own bodies could already have resistance to some kinds of antibiotics from the food we eat.
We have similar metabolisms, so in the same way that they get fat, we get fat too.
And we certainly do.
Bigger killers than superbugs
It’s already pretty obvious that two thirds of us adults are already overweight. Which puts us nicely in line for all the ailments that being fat and obese bring – type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and a whole string of others. Slow killers that take 20 or 30 years to claim us. Beyond the radar for most people – including the doctors and politicians who currently shape our lives.
Must be hefty doses too, if it takes 240,000 tonnes a year to keep them going.
So what happens if antibiotics fail the animals too?
Well, living so close on top of each other, any illness is going to go through them faster than norovirus on a cruise ship. Except it probably won’t be norovirus, but something more deadly.
Remember bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – the CJD version of it? Millions of cows were destroyed to keep the disease out of the food chain.
The gruesome fact is that they were going to die anyway. Exactly the same as intensively farmed livestock around the world will do if a superbug takes hold – a runaway wildfire of animal deaths everywhere.
We’re going to get hungry
Which means overnight, no food to eat.
No lunch or supper for 7½ billion people.
Well, not quite.
50 years ago, before antibiotics were shovelled into Daisy every day, world food production managed to support 2½ million people.
On the same land area – in fact, probably less from expanding cities and new towns springing up – antibiotics have pushed that to the 7½ billion we are now.
So at best 5 billion of us are going to go hungry – two thirds of the world population.
Replacement needed – urgent
So it’s not a question of controlling antibiotics, or running round looking for new ones. It’s time to dump them altogether. To start looking for replacements before a whole load of us die.
Time for our leaders to get serious. That iceberg is a lot bigger than it looks.
Which means a whole attitude change to everything we do. And a level of watchfulness we’re not even close to right now.
Take personal hygiene. Keeping ourselves clean as much as possible, so germs don’t get a chance. Hands especially, the easiest way for germs to enter our mouths, or our eyes. Kinda basic, but just suppose your life depended on it – because it does.
If antibiotics don’t work – and ask any Doc, we’re getting close to that – any germ you catch is free to run riot inside your body. Unstoppable, unless you avoid it in the first place.
Duh, soap and water is not rocket science.
Same principle applies to anything you eat. Is it fresh, is it clean, is it germ-free? Don’t eat it if it’s not – because again, if you get sick, antibiotics won’t save you.
Same thing, even if you’re just walking down the street. Be careful, avoid accidents.
If a bus hits you and you need surgery, antibiotics won’t stop infection. The bugs are resistant and you’re a goner – unless your Doc has a brilliant Plan B.
So be super-observant, all the time. Watch what you’re doing. Avoid accidents. So you don’t get cuts, you don’t get bruised, you don’t break a leg – and you don’t needlessly breathe in someone else’s germs.
Takes all the fun out of life, huh? Or kinda demonstrates how careless we normally are.
Because pretty well every ailment or accident that happens to us is preventable – if we see it coming in the first place and avoid it.
Exactly what we must learn to do, if we are to survive without antibiotics.
And yes, we’re going to have to.
Because bacteria keep evolving all the time – have done so successfully for billions of years. So even if medical science comes up with the most amazing antibiotic yet, give it five years and bacteria will always find a way to become immune to it.
Which applies to all our drugs now, and any new ones we might develop in the future – fighting off bacteria is a never-ending battle against a constantly moving target.
Ah, but antibiotics are not the only way to kill bacteria.
They might be the most effective INSIDE your body, but OUTSIDE there are options.
The super germ-killer
And OUTSIDE is where we can get to them before they get to us.
About the most effective way is to oxidise them. Shove oxygen atoms at them that rip their cell structure apart and destroy their DNA.
Which is what hydrogen peroxide does – particularly airborne IONISED hydrogen peroxide.
Composed only of oxygen and water, hydrogen peroxide is the same all-natural germ fighter the body makes for itself. And the concentration we’re talking about is a low, non-toxic and non-corrosive 6%, the same as you can buy in the chemist for bleaching your hair – though the way we use it makes it way more potent.
It’s therefore a good idea to vacate any room being treated – though it’s environmentally friendy, the stuff can cause irritation to the eyes and throat.
Why ionise? Because that enables a very mild solution, AND changes a mild and harmless solution into a super-performing giant.
Remember the three states of matter: solid, liquid, gas?
Well, ionising a dry mist of hydrogen peroxide metamorphoses it to a fourth state – from a gas to a plasma. This charges it electrostatically, so that all the particles physically repel each other – they spread actively in all directions, forcing themselves to fill the airspace, hard up against every surface, and deep into every crack and crevice. Complete and penetrating dispersal everywhere.
The change to a plasma also releases MORE antimicrobials – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone (a more voracious oxidiser than hydrogen peroxide), and ultraviolet.
The negatively charged hydrogen particles reach out and grab positively charged viruses and bacteria like a magnet grabs iron filings. Locked together, contact time needs only to be a few seconds and the deed is done. ALL viruses and bacteria are destroyed to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6.
Uh huh. You’ve taken precautions to protect yourself, the hydrogen peroxide protects your surroundings – the room you’re in is now completely sterile. All with just one button push on a Hypersteriliser machine.
Rescued, safe, healthy
Hang on to your hat, because it’s going to be. Already the medical heavies reckon we could be only months away from total antibiotics failure.
Except we’re ahead of the game, right? Forewarned is fore-armed.
So no, we’re not dead yet. We’re going to get clean away with it.