Reckon we’re not wise to you, hanging out on ATMs, door handles, handrails and shopping trolleys? You and your mates, coronavirus – aka SARS and MERS – flu and staph?
OK, so we touch all of these things all the time anyway. Covered in germs like you.
Winter germ traps
So now it’s freezing cold and we’re wearing gloves, you’re trying to kid us that we don’t know you’re there.
Nice try, dirt-bag – but it won’t work.
Those gloves are getting the treatment with antibacterial wipes after every outing – then they’re coming off. Straight onto a desk or table to dry, so you guys don’t get a chance.
No breeding, right? This means you!
You know what happens then?
Yeah, you think we’re lulled into a false security, don’t you? The gloves are off, now we’re safe.
But the joke’s on you, germ-brain. We’re going to wash our hands straight away too. Handling gloves transfers you to our fingers – so it’s the big bye-bye, we’re giving you the wash-off.
And you know what?
Hands always clean
We’re giving our hands ANOTHER wash or the gel treatment before we put those gloves back on too.
Because, yeah, we know you hang about on surfaces and in the air indoors too – riding in on our clothing, or the bio-aura of personal bacteria we all carry with us.
Uh huh. So we know if there’s low-life germs like you on our hands when we put our gloves on, you’ll be waiting for us INSIDE next time too.
Not smart enough, bozo.
With near-sterile hands, the inside of our gloves stay near-sterile.
And count on it – with a BOLO always out for you and your kind at this time of the year – those gloves are going in the wash just as often as regular clothes.
Thought we’d forget, eh?
Just shove the gloves in our pocket and never think about them from one day to the next? Never wash them, never anything from one year to another. Unless we get yuck on them, lose one, or get a hole in the finger.
Scarves too, you think we’re stupid?
Or you think because we wear classy gloves to work or out on the town, we’re too scared to wash them because they’re made of suede or leather?
Wash and re-wash
Hoo boy, don’t you know we’re on to you?
Thanks to your other pals like MRSA, e.coli and the rest of the mob, we know our meds aren’t working as well as they used to. Antimicrobial resistance, it’s in all the papers. No-go antibiotics, yeah we know about them – why do you think we’re washing our hands every two seconds – because we’re OCD?
The Docs have been warning us for years us about hygiene standards with you lot around – that staying clean is now our best defence, like back in the old days.
And finally, FINALLY, we’re wising up – going back to the old way of doing things. Soap and water, rub and scrub.
Lift your keyboard and look underneath. Pretty yuck, huh?
Where did all that come from? How long has it been there? What kind of germs might be living in it? Are you safe?
The short answer is, that’s all you – and ANY germs can make you sick if you’re unlucky.
The usual bad boys are flu and norovirus – the most potent, meaning they’re easiest to catch. And the most common – ready to bring you down over and over again, several times a year.
Oh yeah. And just so you know, flu kills around 14,500 people a year – most of them elderly, but you only need one complication to be included in that number.
Norovirus is even easier to catch (20 particles is all it takes) and makes you wish you were dead – those cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea are the end of the world. If it’s bad, dehydration sets in – and if that goes pear-shaped too, it’s curtains. Around 80 people die from it every year, but diarrhoea can do that all by itself.
Norovirus is a major cause of gastroenteritis world wide, alongside the main villain, the salmonella family of 2,500 bugs. Both are usually to be found on your desk along with campylobacter – another family of horribles, escherichia coli, the shigella tribe of nasties, staphylococcus aureus, bacillus cereus and clostridium perfringens.
Invisible health hazard
That gun is loaded alright – and pointing straight at you.
So how come your desk is so dangerous – up to 400 times more bugged than a toilet seat?
Ah, but we know the toilet is a hazardous place for germs – so the facilities management people are in there like clockwork, cleaning and scrubbing several times a day, sometimes even once an hour.
But they don’t come anywhere near your desk, do they? Never anything more than a quick wipe – with the same cloth that does all the desks. All that confidential stuff, projects on the go – don’t touch or else.
Plus you eat there too – like nearly two-thirds of us do.
Which is where all those crumbs and dust particles come from – last week’s fish and chips, smears of dressing from yesterday’s salad because you were on a health kick, today’s pizza. All over the desk, too small to see – under the keyboard is just where they collect most easily, behind the screen too.
Now try this.
It only takes twenty minutes or so for bacteria reproduce itself. So after a couple of days that germ population has doubled. After a week or so, it’s doubled several times over.
One touch and all kinds of things transfer to your hands – which then touch your face, your eyes, your mouth, because so many of us rest our chin in our hand when we work. Infection by fomites.
Sooner or later you’re going to get it, even if you’re meticulous about washing your hands. And you really don’t want to know how bad we are about forgetting to do that – let alone how to do it properly.
There’s more germs in the air too, stirred up by us moving around. Also brought in by each of us as part of our personal germ-cloud.
We can’t see these either, but we all have a constant aura around us of billions and billions more bacteria, some good, some bad – neutral to us maybe, but a possible health risk to our colleagues with different sensitivities and immunities. Even if we’re well, we can make them sick.
And that doesn’t include the have-a-go heroes among us who drag themselves into work when they ARE sick – driven by pressure of work, or job anxiety, or simply unable to stay away. Gone to work with illness, ready to infect us all.
Looks like there’s more than one gun pointing at us.
Time to get bullet-proof. Strike back at these germs before they get us.
And there’s only one way.
A mop and bucket won’t crack it, especially with all those computers around. It won’t touch the air either, 80% of any room space, where most of the germs are.
Never heard of it? Get ready to kiss sickies goodbye. You might even be able to bundle your sick leave together with your holidays. Take a month off Pingsonbury, you’ve earned it.
The thing looks like a posh wheelie-bin with a nozzle and lights on it, ready to spray the room with hydrogen peroxide – one of the most effective germ-killers there is.
Posh is right, the thing is state of the art. Because it ionises the hydrogen peroxide as it sprays – changing it from an ordinary vapour into a plasma – boosting its performance by releasing hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone (a more voracious oxidiser than hydrogen peroxide), and ultraviolet.
Give it forty minutes, and the room is totally sterile. No viruses or bacteria, all gone – even on your desk.
Yeah, the dirt and crumbs and dust bunnies are still there – you’ll have to swab those off yourself – with the wipes you keep around so your hands are always clean.
But now there’s no gun – and anyway the bullets are unloaded. You’re safe and so are your colleagues. Breath easy.
Now all you have to worry about are those lunatic drivers on the roads.
Milling about, following our every move. No just stalking us – hanging on to our clothes, our skin, our hair, the immediate air around us.
Horror in the air
If you’ve seen the horrific pictures in the paper recently, you’ll know what we mean – the spray clouds of droplets and snot violently discharged by an ordinary everyday sneeze.
Germs, right? Billions and billions of them. Gross.
Except what we don’t see are the billions and billions more ejected in the “invisible gas phase” – tiny drops full of pathogens, hardly 10 micrometres across – small enough to spread 200 times further than previously thought, enough to cover any room and reach the ventilation ducts meant to purify them.
Yeah, shocking. We should all carry handkerchiefs. Stop this spread right before it starts.
Except it’s not just droplets from sneezes that are billowing in our office air.
Germs, germs, everywhere
Every one of us trails an invisible but teeming aura of microbes – bacteria, yeast, cells, and cell parts constantly given off by the body. A hodgepodge of good germs and bad, our own personal bio-signature.
All of which are in addition to the germs already in our office – lurking on desks and phones and everything else. As many as 10 million of them on every surface. A seething morass of common viruses and bacteria – e.coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, the superbug MRSA, cold and flu viruses and norovirus – any one of which could put you in hospital or kill you altogether.
A daily threat just as deadly as any terrorist bullet. And we don’t even know it’s there.
OK, fine – the body’s immune system is hard at it, keeping all these bugs at bay. Most of the time nothing happens.
Until you start wondering why just about everybody in the office goes off sick four or five times a year – always an empty desk, colleagues out of action longer than their holidays – with a sick bill for country of £29 billion a year.
Uh huh. Worse than any terrorist opening up with an AK47. 1.8% of the population out of action – that’s 1.17 million people – and anything upwards of 2,000 deaths.
All-out counter attack
So what do we do about it?
If yours is the average office – vacuum the floors, empty the waste-baskets and wipe down the desks – that’s it.
Yeah right, we’re going to stop a terrorist attack with a dirty rag?
Get everybody out at the end of the day – then mist the place up with ionised hydrogen peroxide, so that all those viruses and bacteria are oxidised to nothing.
Forty minutes a room, that’s all it takes. After which the whole place is sterile. No hovering bugs to breathe or touch – no residual sneezes to take us down.
Every surface – even the air itself – is totally germ-free. Including all those nasties left behind from greasy fingers (burgers for lunch, cream doughnuts at coffee break) on keypads and light switches.
OK, so we’ll bring a whole load new germs with us when we waltz in tomorrow – our personal bio-cloud never leaves us.
But we won’t catch any bug left behind from yesterday’s work session – not even from the unlucky ones who caught one already and aren’t making it in today.
The way our grandparents keep banging on about it, you’d swear they were tough as nails.
“Didn’t get sick with that in my day, you youngsters are wimps.”
When we was young
Yeah, thanks for that. Doesn’t look like that now though – they get just as sick as we do.
Er, except they have a point.
There are all kinds of sicknesses now they didn’t have back then. New on the radar – nobody hardly heard of them fifty years ago.
Hello Legionnaire’s disease, toxic shock syndrome, Lyme disease, campylobacter, escherichia coli, vibrio cholerae, helicobacter, erlichiosis, Bartonellosis, Marburg virus, Ebola virus, hantavirus, HIV, cryptosporidiosis, cyclyspora, fungal diseases and spongiform encephalopathy, just to name a few. Sick and super-sick.
And how about allergies? Asthma, allergic rhinitis, peanut butter, lactose intolerance, coeliac disease, yeast, shellfish – all of them chronic, highly unpleasant – and in increasing cases, life-threatening.
Yeah OK, we don’t live the same as we did fifty years ago. People smoked like chimneys, air travel was a once-in-a-lifetime luxury – and apart from fish and chips, fast-food was a fledgling that’ll-never-work fancy.
We also didn’t have the wonder-drugs – antibiotics. So amazing they wiped out a whole slew of illnesses and infection sources overnight. Doctors could perform miracle surgery – heart transplants, hip replacements, rebuild faces, reattach lost limbs, do the impossible.
Now they’re used for everything.
Got a problem? Hit it with antibiotics. Even, would you believe, for non-essential conditions like acne.
You got it – use and over-use. Fifty years of chucking them down our throats – no wonder bacteria have found ways to build up a resistance. Suddenly our wonder-drugs are not working so good any more.
Scarier still, right now all our head cheese numero uno medics are reckoning they’re going to conk out altogether. What the heck do we do when they stop working?
But that’s not why we’re getting these new illnesses. It gets way, way worse than that.
The answer lies in the soil
Because with all the wow-factor of antibiotics, farmers latched onto them too. To protect livestock crowded together in muddy, unhealthy conditions. And to fatten them up.
One of the big plus side-effects of antibiotics in feedstuffs is that animals bulk up faster on less food – getting to market quicker, at a higher price. Bingo!
Which means for fifty years, antibiotics have been used in food production big time – on a massive industrial scale, currently at 65,000 tons a year world-wide – and set to more than double in the next ten years.
Wow, amazing! All the world’s food supply problems solved.
With the totally predictable but unrecognised result that antibiotics are now in everything we eat.
Certainly in all meat, because they’re in the animal foodstuff. In plants too, because animal manure is the most productive natural manure. And in the soil, leaching down from the manure. Into the aquifers and watercourses – pretty well every river and stream in the country.
One brutal and awkward fact staring at us right there.
The everyday dose
Whoever we are, man, woman or child – anywhere throughout the UK – WE ALL CONSUME ANTIBIOTICS DAILY as part of our regular diet. Carnivores, vegetarians – no exceptions. They’re even in the water we drink.
How can we tell?
Well here’s another change that’s happened over the last fifty years.
We’re all getting fat.
Check your own waistline. Right now two-thirds of adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese.
Oh yummy. Which puts us all in line for heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, cancers, depression and anxiety.
The medics reckon it’s sedentary lifestyles, low exercise and high fat diets. Yeah, maybe.
But the elephant in the room is what farmers have already discovered – and been mainlining into their animals for fifty years.
Antibiotics make metabolisms bulk up. “Antimicrobial growth promoters” they call them – basically super-fatteners – like the wicked witch used on naughty children in fairy tales.
And traces of antibiotics have been in every mouthful everyone of us has eaten for the last fifty years. Exactly like we’re being fattened up for market.
Yeah, the things are banned for farming in the EU and have been since 2006. Except here in Britain either the message hasn’t got through, or government and big bucks are conveniently looking the other way.
Fifteen odd years ago, the family returned here to UK from a near life-time in South Africa. Within two years, our athletic sylph-like figures had metamorphosed into “charmingly chubby”. No, we weren’t eating different foods – just UK-sourced stuff we’d never had before.
And fifteen years ago, South Africa wasn’t using “antimicrobial growth promoters” to the same saturation level they are now. A chicken was just chicken – and a trip to Nando’s didn’t set you up to ballooning into a porker.
Which underlines the fact that antibiotics really do create major changes in the body.
Our innards are full of benevolent bacteria – 100 trillion of them doing the heavy work of digesting, producing proteins and helping to manage immune systems, while we park off with the Xbox on the sofa – Call of Duty Black Ops 3, or something equally important.
It’s these bacteria that our Mums teach when we’re in the womb and while we’re nursing –building our defences for all kinds of diseases we’ll face later in life. The same bacteria learn how to create immunity in our formative years too. Those days eating mud have a purpose.
Thing is though, that we don’t face the same diseases we were set up for in our childhood. Our water supply is pure, so there’s no germs there. We have inside loos and hot water, so we’re a lot cleaner than we used to be.
Uh huh. An immune system with nothing to do – so it goes rogue. Triggers false alarms like allergies when there’s no real threat. A crisis out of nothing. Net result, we’re less resistant than we were fifty years ago. Grandpa was right, us youngsters are wimps.
All these newly antibiotic resistant illnesses don’t help either. MRSA, salmonella, streptococcus, c.difficile, gonorrhoea and e.coli. Even that Victorian illness TB – almost completely off the scope in UK – has found a way to make a comeback.
Yeah, weaker than our Swinging Sixties oldies – and more at hazard because the wonder-drugs don’t work any more.
Hike up our hygiene
Which leaves one line of defence that’s now essential if we’re going to survive. Hike up our hygiene levels so that harmful pathogens can’t get us – we’re not just clean, our surroundings are sterile. No bacteria, no risk, job done.
Which means two things.
Washing our hands before and after we do anything like eat or hit the loo – so there’s never any germs on them.
And misting our surroundings up with a Hypersteriliser, so there’s no germs around us either – particularly in the air – they’re oxidised to nothing by ionised hydrogen peroxide. Bacteria gone, viruses too, safe and sterile.
OK, now we can stop with the antibiotics, though the farmers have still got an issue. Better hygiene all round should sort it – why shouldn’t pigs and poultry be protected sterile-safe like we are?
Oh yes, and no more obesity either – though count on it, diets will still remain a fad. Yes, still the gym, unless we’re sick of it. Yes, still the carrot juice.
Read the headlines, and the world is a scary place.
Not as scary as everyday living though – and a lot more dangerous than we might like to think.
Yes, terrorism is awful – and yes, it is deadly. Last year it claimed the lives of 32,727 people worldwide.
Bad & badder
But no lesser person than President Obama claims that global warming is MORE dangerous. Well yes, if you think in natural calamities like hurricanes and tsunamis – the jury is still out long-term.
Closer to home, European statistics put road accident deaths at 25,700 last year – not far off the total for UK deaths from sepsis, a form of blood poisoning that nobody’s heard of, but which is a major killer just the same.
But still chicken-feed against what COULD happen. Even obesity is scarier – like two-thirds of adults and a quarter of children.
Top of the list is not terrorism, war, or even natural catastrophe. It’s pandemic influenza – the same killer that wiped out 50 million people in 1918 – more than all fatalities in the whole of World War One.
Our worst nightmare
And it could happen tomorrow.
Lesser outbreaks have already shown how such viruses can spread around the world.
Bird flu, Hong Kong flu, MERS – they just hop on a Boeing, courtesy of some unsuspecting traveller – and they’re there in eight hours, twelve tops.
The wonder-drugs of the Twentieth Century don’t work any more.
We are at hazard
Fifty years of pumping antibiotics into everything that moves have caused them to run out of fizz. Bacteria have learnt how to survive them – they have become resistant. Swallow a bunch of antibiotics right now and chances are they won’t do anything.
Not against the kind of infection we’re seeing today – the superbugs that medicine can’t clobber.
With rogue illnesses like MRSA, salmonella, streptococcus, c.difficile, TB, gonorrhoea and e.coli flying around, routine surgery is already an iffy issue. Soon it won’t be possible at all. The bugs will develop similar immunity to the few remaining effective drugs – and last failsafe will have gone for good.
Yes there are still a few antibiotics of last resort – the carbapenems, used in the treatment of the already-resistant MRSA.
But the bad guys are already at the door. Newest kid on the block is CRE – carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae – a resistant strain that includes klebsiella species and escherichia coli (e. coli), both of which are normal gut bacteria but can go hostile.
OK, the guns don’t work, so it’s down to bare hands. Not as impossible as it seems – and we’re not dead yet.
Our hands have it
Since we use our hands for everything, they are pretty much our most major source of infection. Every touch brings a transfer of dirt and germs, microscopic so they still LOOK clean – but potentially deadly if they get into our bodies.
But wash hands, and most of the time, the problem goes away.
A good proper session with soap and hot water will get rid of 99.9% of the germs we all carry. It works for doctors and nurses – and it’s the major reason why every visit to hospital doesn’t land us at death’s door.
But it has to be a genuine wash – not hands under the tap for a few seconds, which is all most of us attempt. We don’t know the dangers, so we’re playing with our lives. There is no failsafe. We can’t rely on antibiotics to rescue us any more.
The other thing we need to do is sterilise the spaces around us. It’s not just our hands that are covered in germs – 10 million on each in the average office – it’s every single thing in our lives, including the air around us.
Yes, the air full of germs all of the time, but not always in concentrated clouds – and yes, day-to-day our immune systems can normally cope with it.
Except we spend most of our time indoors, particularly in winter – sharing the same space, breathing the same atmosphere. Which means the smallest thing about us can easily influence everyone else.
Interacting with each other
And it does. Every one of us trails around a personal germ cloud – billions and billions bacteria, viruses, smells, dead skin cells and other body detritus – everywhere we go.
We may not pass anything on to each other – that usually requires physical contact or breathing something in. But every day our clouds mingle and influence each other, creating a germ threshold that lingers behind us after we’re gone – and is there waiting for us again in the morning.
If any one of us has a weakness or underlying condition, we are at risk. Harmless to ourselves, but a possible threat to others. But not if the place is sterile. No germs, no risk – everybody’s safe.
And we need to be.
Our bodies are more sensitive than in years gone by – prone to allergies, vulnerable to even the tiniest of germ threats. Plus living and working on top of each other as our modern lifestyles demand, we’re much more contagious – if one of us catches something , we all do.
Which is why regular sessions with a Hypersteriliser are becoming essential after we go home at night.
A nifty gadget like a sort of posh wheelie-bin, it creates a super-fine dry mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide that spreads everywhere – actively pushing into remote spaces, cracks, crevices, all the places that never usually get cleaned.
As it does so, its electrically-charged particles reach out and grab viruses and bacteria, attracted exactly like magnets. The germs die, oxidised by oxygen atoms that rip their cell structure to shreds.
Forty minutes and the place is sterile – the mild, non-toxic 6% mist leaving only oxygen and water, which evaporates before it touches anything. Oh, and a microscopically thin layer of antimicrobial silver on everything – a sterile barrier that lasts up to a week or more.
How does this help the Doc?
Well if we make a habit of deliberately avoiding germs, half her problem has gone away. Prevention is better than cure – fewer patients means more time for care, more effort available for saving lives.
Yes, it’s a challenge without antibiotics. But keeping clean – sterile clean – is the one sure way of avoiding infection. If we rediscover hygiene, we’ll make it.
Anywhere an incision needs infection control – unthinkable without effective antibiotics to protect us from harmful pathogens.
Wonder-drugs, but beginning to be useless.
Because after more than half a century of intensive and continuous use – numerous bacteria have developed resistance – our miracle medicines are about as effective as Smarties.
Any visit to hospital, any accident or infection, and we’re all of us susceptible to an increasingly common slew of superbugs – MRSA, salmonella, streptococcus, c.difficile, TB, gonorrhoea and e.coli.
Which means doctors can’t use antibiotics in the critical situations where they need to. Not without taking chances. Or working the long way round. The hard way.
By ramping hygiene levels up high enough that infection can’t happen – washing hands, and making the surroundings sterile.
Hike up hygiene levels or else
Which is why a lot of hospitals are advancing beyond traditional wipe and scrub methods. Just because it smells of chlorine doesn’t mean it’s sterile. Nor does rub-and-scrub always disinfect everything. Under tables, behind cupboards, tangles of cable get missed out.
So does the air itself, probably 80% of any room space. More crucial than most of us ever realise, with each of us trailing around our own personal bio-plume of bacteria unique to each of us. Personal good bacteria – and personal bad bacteria – possibly harmless to ourselves, but a real problem to anyone with an underlying health condition.
Count on it, we’ll soon start seeing similar procedures everywhere – at work, in schools, in restaurants and hotels, on planes, ships and buses – regular treatment to keep them sterile.
With good reason.
The dirty secret
Because there’s a massive downside to antibiotics that we’re only now becoming aware of – one that government and big business are trying very hard to keep quiet.
They’re making us weaker and more fragile than we were – less resilient, with less stamina – not the invincibles we once were. Compare us with our grandparents back in the in the 50’s and we’re a sorry shadow of ourselves.
All from over-use of antibiotics on an industrial scale – a world consumption 65,000 tons a year and rising rapidly.
But not in medicine – in agriculture.
You see, back in the 50’s, when antibiotics were discovered, the farming industry picked them up as healthcare for livestock. So much of farming involves mud and dirt that hygiene is next to impossible.
Antibiotics gave farmers a way of compensating for the lack of it. Their animals were protected against disease and infection by regular additions to their feed. Their profits were protected too.
Very soon, they began to notice something else. That animals on antibiotics, particularly fed from young, developed faster and bulked up heavier – bigger and more impressive, ready for market earlier – AND didn’t eat so much.
That did it. Because the principle worked everywhere. Beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry – all of them developed faster, bigger – for even better profits.
Which is how the farming industry worldwide gets through 65,000 tons a year – in all likelihood set to double in the next ten years. Everybody wins, brilliant.
We’re the losers
Except for us.
Because the animals are on antibiotics all the time, right? Not like us, taking them for 10 days to clear an illness – regular doses in every feed, every day.
So antibiotics are in their systems – and have been for 50 years.
Which means they’re in us too. Not to the same level of course, but a regular part of our diet, every single day.
Not just in meat either. Livestock manure is highly prized as a high performance fertiliser. So there’s antibiotics in plants too – in varying quantities. In tubers such as potatoes – they’re pretty concentrated. The great British staple – mash, boiled, chips. We’re mainlining on the stuff.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? From the soil into the plants. And from the soil into the watercourses, leaching into the aquifers, into our rivers and streams, our reservoirs – ready and waiting for us at every twist of a tap.
Uh huh. For the last 50 years, every mouthful we’ve taken of pretty well anything has had antibiotics in it.
And if you think about how antibiotics work, they’re not exactly kind to us. They kill bacteria – and inside us that’s brutal. Because down in our gut there are more than 100 trillion bacteria living harmoniously – a synergistic arrangement where they do the work and we take it easy.
Bacteria digest most of our food for us. They make proteins to power us up. They even help regulate our immune system – set a good bacteria to catch a bad bacteria, a deal our bodies made with them millions of years ago, when we crawled out from under a rock.
But antibiotics kill bacteria. Not just the bad ones, but a lot of the good ones as well. Ones that we need to keep our bodies well. Suddenly clobbered because they were there. They got in the way. Killed in the fallout.
An internal atom bomb
Because that’s kind what it’s like when an antibiotic capsule dissolves in your belly. An atom bomb going off – among a population of trillions. Which is how, very often, a course of antibiotics can bring on a whole wodge of side effects – cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, itches, rashes, wooziness, the works.
Yeah, the bad guy bacteria get killed. A lot of the good guys get killed, maimed or orphaned at the same time. They don’t perform as they used to – they’re weak, crippled, prevented from doing stuff. And it’s our bodies that suffer the consequences.
OK, penicillin – 1955. Discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, sixty years ago.
Which means pretty well every one of us grew up with antibiotics being fed to us every day. Three meals a day, 365 days a year – every day for the thirty years we might have grown up to today – 32,850 doses of antibiotics in our system. No wonder we’re weakening!
Like allergies. Where do they come from? Rare as hen’s teeth back in the Fifties. Common as anything now. Peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat – where will it end. And why?
A glitch in the system
Because our bacteria took a hit, that’s why.
And they’ve been taking a hit every day since before birth – because Mum’s diet had antibiotics in it too. So our immune systems are reprogrammed – hacked and rearranged, so they glitch when there’s nothing there – or kick in when they’re not supposed to.
Exactly when we need more protection because antibiotics don’t work, we’re weakened, more disease-prone and less able to recover from the same cause.
All done by antibiotics.
And here’s the kicker – the final insult.
They make us bulk up too. Particularly in early years. Just like the cows and pigs and lambs and chickens. Bulk up big and develop faster.
Except we call it getting fat. Doctors call it obesity.
Yes we can blame our diet too – however we try to finagle it. Too much carbohydrates, cut back on proteins, eat more vitamins – makes no difference.
Because regardless of what we eat, it’s sure to have antibiotics in it.
And yes, fatness is in our genes – but our genes are modified by our bacteria. And our bacteria are fighting with their hands tied behind their backs.
Ah yes, because it’s high fat and a major cause of atherosclerosis – bacon, butter, brown sauce and bread – overdo them and you’re dead.
Actually no – unless you pig out something stupid.
It’s how the bacon gets that way – solid, meaty taste you can’t resist. What happens out on the farm.
A disaster already happening
Antibiotics is how.
Because there’s a lot of money in pigs. So you’ll find them crowded together in high-intensity breeding sheds. Always dirty, often unhygienic – lots of pigs living close to each other, lots of pig poo – a real mission to keep healthy.
Which is where the antibiotics come in. Lots of healthy pigs, a sure-fire success.
Plus there’s a bonus. Antibiotics in their food makes pigs bulk up, especially from young. Bigger, heavier pigs – even more money.
It works the same with poultry – all those mega chicken sheds the size of aircraft hangers. Put antibiotics in their feed and you get bigger, better chickens – they even eat less too. Higher profits, lower overheads.
Which is why antibiotics are used across the board in all livestock production. Beef and dairy cattle. Lamb and mutton. A massive chunk of the food industry on an industrial scale – 65,000 tons a year world wide and rising.
One heck of a health time bomb.
Over-used and useless
Because when it comes to the purpose antibiotics were designed for – fighting disease in human beings – they’re beginning not to work any more. Over-use and abuse have trained bacteria how to be resistant. Our medicines are useless.
Mind you, we’re not exactly innocent ourselves. Jumping up and down with every minor ailment, demanding antibiotics from the Doc like they’re Smarties. Not finishing the course half the time when we get them – teaching bugs to be even more resistant.
“Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics.”
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies
Catastrophic, yes. But that’s not the time bomb.
The real one is ticking away in our kids.
Because what do antibiotics do? They either destroy bacteria, or slow down their growth – bactericidal or bacteriostatic.
Bacteria are us
But it’s a slowly dawning fact of life that we ourselves are more bacteria than human – colonised over our whole evolution and outnumbered 10 to 1. In our gut alone, there are more than 100 trillion of them – doing the heavy work of digesting, producing proteins and regulating our immune systems.
Which means when that antibiotic capsule dissolves in our gut, it’s like a nuclear explosion. 100 trillion bacteria – boom! Yes, it gets rid of the bad guys, but there’s collateral damage too – good guys caught in the crossfire.
No wonder there’s side effects – cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea. All from fighting infection in a hip operation – what’s that about?
Yeah, that’s what happens when we take a pill. But that’s not the time bomb either.
You see, we’ve all of us been taking antibiotics continuously since birth – and even before.
They’re in the food we eat – the beef, pork, mutton and poultry. They’re in our vegetables too – from soil enriched by animal fertiliser. No getting away from it, we’re full of the things.
But hold it.
If bacteria regulate our immune system and antibiotics destroy them, what does that do to the rest of us?
System under threat
Plays havoc with our defences, right? Takes down our protective shield at exactly the same time that bad guy bacteria learn how to be invincible. Double whammy BOOM-BOOM!
Now flash-back to why those young piggy-wigs get antibiotics in the first place. Not the health reason, the money reason.
To bulk them up. Bigger, better, fatter pigs.
And don’t forget the “from young” bit. So their bodies LEARN to be fat.
Just like we humans do – and have been doing – more and more visibly throughout the last generation. Learning to get fat. Shaped that way by antibiotics. Hello Twenty-First Century obesity.
Yeah, you got it. We’ve done it to ourselves and keep doing it. Getting in deeper and paying the price.
We start as babies – our immune systems shaped and trained by our mothers’ own metabolism. Her bacteria teach ours – about good and bad. Some of her passive bad guys even teaching us about bogies we’ve neither of us met.
But she’s got antibiotics in her system from the food she eats – and so have we. Not even born and we’re already picking up bad habits.
It gets worse
There’s an even bigger hiccup if the birth goes iffy. Docs can save Mum and us by doing a C-section – a caesarean to get us out of trouble. It stops the bacterial learning curve though. Once that umbilical cord is cut, her system can’t teach us any more. We’ve got to go with what we’ve got.
Then whoops, what happens if she goes onto feeding us with formula? Any last-minute briefing sessions in her breast milk are denied to us – our bacteria have to make do with an incomplete picture. They don’t know how to recognise dangers, or what to do when they happen.
Yeah, yeah – but the world’s a healthier place than it was generations ago. Clean water, fewer diseases, better living conditions, less chance to get sick.
Except antibiotics have graunched our systems.
Our bacteria don’t see threats, so they make up phantoms. Reacting to things that aren’t there with very real symptoms – allergies, asthma. When you were growing up, how many kids did you know who broke out in hives from a peanut butter sandwich? Or went into full anaphylactic shock?
And now we’re getting fat, too. Never mind what we eat, we bulk up – like our bodies were trained to from birth.
We can’t live with them, we can’t live without them.
But not all bad
Except that’s not entirely true.
Inside our bodies we’re OK, protected by our own bacteria. It’s the outside nasties we’ve got to handle – viruses, bacteria and fungi, waiting to have a go at us.
Washing our hands is a start. Getting rid of germs on our skin we might ingest otherwise.
Sterilising our surroundings is our best follow-up. Misting up our living space with ionised hydrogen peroxide from a Hypersteriliser – oxidising all germs to nothing, keeping ourselves safe.
Any accident, any surgery, any infection, any fever – we’re on our own. Either our immune systems will handle it, or they won’t. Game over.
End of the line
Because now there’s no more failsafe. No last second backup. Real Friday 13th.
No more silly buggers, the Doc can’t save you if your misadventure goes pear-shaped. The cupboard is empty.
Don’t believe it?
Already we’ve got MRSA – methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus – the scourge of every hospital and big bogey of AMR – antimicrobial resistance. This superbug lives naturally in your nose, for goodness sake.
Wipe your face, then touch a cut – and you’re up a gum tree.
And MRSA is just one of our regular 9-to-5 infections. Other AMR stars appearing daily include salmonella, streptococcus, c.difficile, TB, gonorrhoea and e.coli. All of them can kill if we’re not careful – and that doesn’t include the heavy brigade like botulism or cholera.
Over-use and abuse
How did these bacteria get so smart?
Well, we’ve been chucking antibiotics at them on an industrial scale for more than 50 years – plenty of time to learn.
Sure thing, a lot of that is in medicine – we’re a growing cult of pill-poppers. These days the average teenager might be on a course of antibiotics say, five times a year.
Hypochondriac grown-ups are worse – or should that be “cyberchondriacs?” The Internet breeds self-diagnosing adults who demand antibiotics so strongly, there’s doctors and chemists who fear for life and limb.
But agriculture is the real villain. 65,000 tons a year and more to bulk up animals for market – beef, pork, mutton, poultry – right across the board. It’s in plants too –from “natural” recycled animal waste. Over-use big time.
Which also means like it or not – carnivore or vegetarian – we’re all on antibiotics already, absorbed through the food chain. And have been ALL OUR LIVES.
Always read the label, remember? Do not take continuously for more than ten days without consulting a physician.
What the heck, we’ve OD’d all our lives!
No wonder our metabolisms are so different from our grandparents’ – weaker, less resilient, more prone to allergies and minor ailments, ballooning to obesity. Our internal bacteria have mutated so much, we’re hardly the same kind of human beings.
Because if it takes only twenty minutes for a bacterium to adapt and evolve to a new generation, that’s around 438,000 mutations learning how to survive antibiotics since they were first used – they should have got it right by now.
So yeah, antibiotics don’t work any more. And since we’re surrounded by billions and billions of bacteria every second – even colonised inside by over 100 trillion – washing our hands is a start.
Wash ’em off so we don’t infect cuts or swallow anything nasty. Wash, wash, wash.
The sloppy hygiene factor
But there’s a problem, and it’s us.
We touch everything everywhere without thinking of these bacteria. From one second to the next, we never think we’re contaminated. Our hands LOOK clean, so we don’t bother.
Sure, we used to get away with it – the Doc back-stopping us with a load of wonder-drugs. But not any more.
So we’re already in big trouble. From our own sloppy hygiene.
It’s not just hands either. Bacteria are everywhere. On everything, under and behind everything, even inside us. And of course, floating through the air – lighter than smoke or specks of dust – swirling, trailing, riding the smallest breeze, all the way up to 30,000 – higher than Everest.
So as soon as our clean hands touch something, they’re contaminated again.
Repeat and repeat
Which means we’ve got to clean the things we touch. And KEEP CLEANING THEM – because the bacteria keep coming back. Wash, wipe, scrub, it’s a never-ending mission.
Even then, it’s not even half the job. Around 80% of any room we live in is air space to move around in – and there’s no wash, wipe, scrubbing answer for that.
We’re at hazard from each other’s bacteria too – because we’re not all the same. Most of us have weaknesses of some kind or other. So our personal biome – the trailing cloud of bacteria unique to each of us – is trapped and mingles in the air of our work space with everybody else’s.
Not vaporised hydrogen peroxide either – too strong for safety and making everything wet.
Press the button when everybody’s gone for the night, and the mild 6% solution of hydrogen peroxide is IONISED from a microscopic spray into an electrically-charged gas plasma – a super-performing change of state that releases even more antimicrobials – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone, and ultraviolet – every particle alive with energy to disperse everywhere and grab pathogens as they fly.
Forty minutes and the place is sterile. No viruses, no bacteria. Zero germs. Every surface safe. The air totally bio-neutral.
Safe till next time
Of course it starts all over again next morning.
As we all breeze in for the day, each trailing our bio-cloud with us – hands alive with bacteria from the steering wheel, the door handle, the ticket machine, the lift button and the loo seat. Er yes, but soap and water fixes most of that.
Wash, wash, wash – it’s our latest antibiotic – which in case you were wondering means “inhibits the growth of, or destroys, microorganisms.”
Phew! We made it.
Never mind that those antibio-whatsits don’t work any more. We know how to be safe.
You clump in, not smiling. Thrilling drilling is not your thing.
The Doc smiles too. Sun-tanned, just back from two weeks in Calabria. Sit back in the chair. Tilt, tilt, tilt. His new scenic of Scilla and Castello Ruffo is on the ceiling. Soothing for nervous types like you. He gives you wraparound specs, but they fog up.
This is it, the moment of tooth.
You can’t see anything, but he’s not drilling. Just tinkering around your mouth with a probe.
And then it hits you.
How safe are you?
The face mask, the latex gloves. To protect him or you?
You’re straight in off the street, still in your coat, pavement grime on your calf boots. If he drills, won’t the germs get in there?
That’s an exposed cavity – sure his instruments are all sterilised – but how safe is that room?
Your feet wiggle, like you can feel the mud through the leather.
Lots of people come in here. 15-minute appointments back-to-back, just like yours. Nine-to-five, that’s eight hours – less one off for lunch – 28 patients a day. 28 people with mud on their boots, but you never see anyone sweep the floor.
And all that other street dirt too. Grime in the air that marks collars and cuffs. Germs. All swept in by the gale that happens every time the street door opens. All over everyone’s clothes, their skin…
They think it’s all over
“There we are, all done.”
The dentist is smiling as the chair tips upright. He takes off the wraparounds. Calabria on the walls too. Boats and Italian fishermen.
He helps you out of the chair, comes with you to the door, the nurse too. They both smile – Hollywood brilliance.
The nurse has a remote in her hand. They step out with you and close the door. What’s going on?
The nurse holds up the remote. “My turn?”
He nods and grins at you, kinda schoolboy silly.
“A Captain Kirk moment. Set phasers to stun.”
The nurse presses a button. They both leer at the closed door. Hollywood smiles like movie lights.
The Doc hold up his watch and leans against the wall.
“It only takes five minutes. Our new toy. We call it Starship Enterprise.”
You frown, running your tongue round your teeth. There’s a new roughness where the hole was. Fresh amalgam. And you didn’t even hear the drill. Is something wrong?
The Doc looks embarrassed. Did he notice the mud on your boots?
“It’s our UV light generator, in the corner where your feet were.”
You vaguely remember a thing like a photocopier.
The schoolboy look comes back.
“After every patient, we pop out here and press the button. This super-bright xenon light pops up and pulse-pulse-pulse, kills all the germs it can see – anywhere and everywhere, on the chair, on the instruments, up in the air, all over the place.”
Super-schoolboy now. A gadget freak for sure – or a video game player. Full Hollywood grin too. Super-Jaws.
“Viruses, bacteria, bugs, all gone. And a five minute breather, while we stay out here safe.”
Your turn to grin. No worries about the boots. No worries about anything, you can’t remember.
But you’re curious. Starship Enterprise? UV?
The Doc nudges the door.
“C’mon, take a butcher’s.”
You were right, just like a photocopier – Enterprise is just fantasy. The only difference is a circular hatch on the top. Closed. Where the light lives.
He pats it, like it’s a new C320.
“It’s called a Hyperpulse. It bombards the room with high intensity UV light which germs can’t survive. Attacks their DNA – bye bye, bacteria. Every new patient gets a sterile room.”
You smile and your tongue finds the rough spot. Too geeky for you. But not tooth hurty any more. You’d better get back.
No probs, they’re already calling the next patient.