OK, most of us know that antibiotics kill bacteria.
Except it’s a shattering revelation to most of us that We are 90% bacteria. Only 10% of our bodies are human.
Yeah, life-saving antibiotics fight infection and make us well again.
But there’s always collateral damage. We never quite return to 100% ourselves again afterwards. Our personal bacteria are depleted or damaged.
All thanks to antibiotics.
A killer legacy
Miracle drugs they certainly have been, until now. But evidence is mounting that our unswerving faith in them may be misplaced. That they are in fact about the most deadly threat we face today.
Three major challenges they throw at us, all of them deadly:
Superbugs. Bacteria can and do find ways to resist antibiotics. They become immune, untreatable – life-threatening superbugs. The threat is so serious that the UN convened their first ever general assembly to address the issue only last week. Superbugs are expected to kill 10 million of us by 2050.
Obesity. We’re fat and getting fatter – two thirds of us are already overweight or obese. Again, thanks to antibiotics. A staggering 240,000 tonnes are fed to livestock every year to accelerate growth and weight gain. Their manure fertilises crops, so that our entire food chain is laced with the most phenomenal growth booster ever. Our food bulks us up, we become obese, triggering diabetes, heart disease and cancer – together killing 500 million of us by 2050.
Famine. Farmers won’t stop feeding animals their biggest ever money-maker. Which means antibiotics on farms will nearly double in the next 15 years. HALF A MILLION TONNES A YEAR gives bacteria plenty of practice to become superbugs. Which means widespread disease is inevitable – a collapse of the food supply to non-antibiotic levels. 6 billion of us can expect to starve to death.
More than two thirds of the world’s population gone. All thanks to antibiotics – the invincible superbugs they create, and the ballooning bodies they force on us that our systems cannot withstand.
Doom and gloom worldwide
An effective alternative
Except in a research lab at the University of Melbourne – where 25-year old PhD student Shu Lam from Batu Pahat in the state of Johor, Malaysia, is working on a game-changer. Star-shaped molecules of peptide polymers that destroy superbugs WITHOUT antibiotics.
The star-shaped polymers rip bacteria walls apart WITHOUT harming the body. Destroying them in much the same way as oxygen atoms do outside the body – annihilating harmful germs in living spaces.
Shu Lam’s work is still in its infancy, but already the results are impressive. Effective against six strains of drug-resistant bacteria in the lab, and on one superbug in live mice.
Her work parallels the largely forgotten efforts of others looking for alternatives to antibiotics – particularly the use of bacteriophages.
Using a germ to catch a germ, phages are tightly targeted viruses that attack bacteria by injecting DNA and fragmenting their cells.
The practice of deploying viruses to kill bacteria became widely used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War – a practical alternative around embargoed Western antibiotics.
Meanwhile the rest of the world is still at committee stage, endlessly debating antimicrobial resistance while the rest of us fatten up daily.
Time to realise that antibiotics are not all they’re cracked up to be. Life-savers in an emergency, but killers long term.
Let’s hope the penny drops soon.
Two thirds of us could be dead by the time the gurus make a decision.
Sounds all very innocent, doesn’t it? AMR on farms.
Yet within our lifetime, it could be the cause of 5 BILLION deaths – the biggest single calamity in our history.
Three little letters – AMR. Antimicrobial resistance, the increasing immunity of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi to any medicine we throw at them.
Already a global health issue, this week its superbug effect on humans became the focus of world leaders at the United Nations.
The largely British initiative was driven by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who targeted AMR as “the greatest future threat to our civilisation.”
The real villain
And top of the list of medicines most susceptible to AMR, is our previously unequalled group of miracle wonder drugs – antibiotics.
Because they’re so amazing, antibiotics have become almost the cure-all for any kind of illness or infection.
Major surgery? Yup, they’re essential. And little Jimmy’s cough? Start him on these and come back in a week.
With this kind of “infallible” hype among doctors and patients, they’ve become over-prescribed and over-used in almost a third of all cases – dramatically accelerating the opportunities for bacteria to develop immunity.
More chance to practice, more chance to succeed. Easy-peasy when you’re a versatile organism and high survivor, able to reproduce every twenty minutes
Armageddon in the making
So yes, AMR is a global nightmare. But a midget alongside the Armageddon of AMR on farms.
240,000 TONNES of antibiotics are shovelled into farm livestock every year. Industry will assert it’s to keep animals healthy. Reality is that antibiotics promote growth like nothing on Earth. Animals develop bigger, better and faster for a fraction of the cost and time.
The growth rate is so fantastic that in the 50 years since antibiotics were discovered, world food production has expanded to support a population more than THREE TIMES THE SIZE. And even more amazingly, off exactly the same amount of land – our planet is still as big as it was, half a century ago.
To do this of course, farming has become astronomically more intense. Expanding from the quaint pastoral myth of our childhood to the factory farms of today.
That’s what industrial-scale factory farms are – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. Google for images of “CAFO” and you’ll see what we mean. Production so concentrated, it’s like animals herded into an over-crowded block of flats.
Such environments are so unhealthy that antibiotics are vital to keeping animals alive, let alone fattening them up. They compensate for the unnatural and unhealthy conditions – the everyday “veterinary” excuse for an industry that bucks against limiting antibiotics precisely because of AMR.
And as you’d expect, AMR on farms happens on an industrial scale – just like the farms themselves.
No wonder. Bacteria are the oldest and most successful living organisms on the planet. Capable of surviving intense heat, intense cold, and even heavily acid environments. No antibiotic has stood up to them for more than 25 years.
Bash bacteria all you like, they always win. So that factory farms become superbug factories.
Which means that total AMR on farms is a fast-approaching reality. By numbers alone, accelerating faster than among us humans.
And what happens when AMR on farms becomes “pan-resistant” – responsive to no antibiotics at all?
In their concentration camp environments, the animals will sicken and die. Contagion will spread among them like wildfire. Infecting neighbouring farms through contaminated manure, ground seepage and water supply.
Like all epidemics, it will happen suddenly. Overnight, millions of animals will be lost. 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle, 1 billion sheep and 1 billion pigs. Most of the world’s food supply – gone.
No food. Not for the 7½ billion we are now. Precious little for the 2½ billion we were 50 years ago, before this antibiotics disaster started. A one-way ticket for at least 5 billion of us – famine and death.
But we’re already dying anyway. Because of those same antibiotics.
Yes, from disease caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
And more frighteningly, from the drip-drip sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics we ingest every meal through our food.
All this, and obesity too
Antibiotics fatten up animals. We eat them, we fatten up from the same antibiotics. If not directly, then from their manure used to fertilise crops and other animal feed. Inescapable even if we’re vegetarian. Which is why two thirds of us are already obese.
But there’s a difference. Animals only survive fourteen months before they go to market. Bigger and fatter – a kind of short-term obesity.
We go for the long haul. Living on for decades, getting fatter and fatter, more and more obese. And paying the inevitable price for obesity – asthma, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The long, slow road to painful and miserable death.
The UN meeting wants us to develop new antibiotics, use them more responsibly and cut down on the need for them through better hygiene.
Not good enough if we read the signs.
The ultimate price
Change or no change, all antibiotics will:
Inevitably succumb to AMR, generating killer superbugs
Push increasing numbers of us into accelerating obesity
Unleash AMR on farms, triggering wide-scale disease, rapidly followed by famine
Three outcomes, all ending in death. Our miracle life-savers have become mass killers.
Enough tinkering with antibiotics now.
It’s time our leaders found some serious alternatives.
No A&E is not closed. They’re just very busy. Life-threatening crises only – there’s some seriously heavy doctoring going on in there.
Life-threatening because that’s what they’re swamped with. Lots of people who might die.
Because of antimicrobial resistance, that’s the nightmare they’re fighting. You may have heard of it as AMR.
None of their antibiotics in the cupboard are working any more – they’re failing because of superbugs.
Doctors always knew it was going to happen. Since antibiotics were first discovered, bacteria have always found a way to develop immunity. Sooner or later, the next wonder-drug becomes useless. And now all of them are.
The end of modern medicine
So it’s back to hands-on medicine with bandages and antiseptics. Doing everything the hard way.
No more miracle recoveries, from now on we all have to face the hard facts of life.
It hasn’t happened yet of course. But it’s sure as hell going to. And very, very soon. Dr Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer, has been warning us of it for years.
And when it does, all the amazing capabilities of modern medicine will come tumbling down in ruins. No more heart bypasses. The end of hip replacements. Caesarean births no longer possible. The end of any major surgery because drug-driven infection control is finished. A&E stalled.
Not just operations either. Think of all the ailments we run to the GP for that we clobber with antibiotics. Especially for our kids.
When antibiotics fail, there is no safety net. No more bacteria-bashing for us. It’s bacteria’s turn to strike back.
Yes, we’re vulnerable. But we’re not dead yet. If we’re watchful, we can survive.
Friends, not enemies
First off, if we can’t beat them, we should join them. A lot easier than most of us think, because we’re not the living beings we think we are. Only 10% of us is human.
The rest is bacteria, actually essential to our needs. Fulfilling a zillion functions – from digestion, to protein production, to even managing our immune systems. Going to war with bacteria is going to war with ourselves.
Of course there is good bacteria and bad bacteria. Or more accurately, bacteria in the right place – and bacteria in the wrong place. When we come down with bacterial ailments, those are really the bad guys in the wrong place.
Which means our best survival chances are by protecting the good bacteria from the bad. Shielding them from contact, or avoiding possible exposure. Effective defence, long before getting to A&E.
Yes, so second, we need to take care. No more blundering around without thinking. We need to be alert always. Aware of accident opportunities and steering clear. Slice your finger chopping vegetables, and you could be in serious trouble. Especially if A&E can’t help.
Third, we need all the protection we can get. Keep those bad bacteria away. Never let them get near us, so we’re never threatened.
Which puts a major stress on hygiene. Deliberately taking it way more serious – and never letting our guard down. Bad bacteria can’t get to us if there aren’t any around.
So it’s washing hands before and after we do anything. And much more thoroughly than we might have done before. Two minutes with soap and water, not the token rinse we usually kid ourselves with.
It’s cleaning and washing everything around us too. No good if our hands are clean and we touch something contaminated. Bacteria are everywhere, billions and billions of them – on every surface and in the air around us.
Yeah, OK. We can rub and scrub with bleach like we’re paranoid. We still won’t reach everywhere and bacteria are persistent. Bugs like norovirus and salmonella are notorious for coming back over and over again.
Stacking the odds
Luckily, there is a way to annihilate them. Oxidise them with hydrogen peroxide. Their cells are ripped apart by oxygen atoms. No more threat – ALL viruses and bacteria are destroyed.
Press one button and the place mists up with IONISED hydrogen peroxide – more potent and way more effective than other methods. Electrically charged, the ultra-fine mist particles are galvanised into escaping from each other. Pushing into every crack and crevice, reaching underneath and behind things, hard up against walls, floor and ceiling.
That same charge reaches out and grabs at germs like a magnet too. With the opposite charge, they are helplessly attracted – to be zapped into nothing by an oxidising phalanx of hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet.
Germ-free – safe
Give it 40 minutes and all germs are gone. 99.9999% of them, to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6. Down to just one germ out of every million particles in the room – almost infinitesimally nothing.
Imagine, the room is germ-free. Even though we bring our own cloud of germs in with us, we’re stepping into a zero threshold. Can’t get much better protection than that.
And don’t panic, A&E might be hard-pressed, but they’re not totally swamped yet.
Bump our hygiene levels all round though, and they stand a better chance of riding the tsunami to come.
Amazing though isn’t it?
We can prevent the end of the world, just by washing our hands.
But say what you like, more than half of us eat at our desks – and we aren’t going to stop.
Yes, it demonstrates job insecurity. Yes, it encourages an obsessive-compulsive work ethic. But just try and stop it, and you’ll have a revolt on your hands.
Better to go with the flow. And at least try to make things healthier and easier.
Start with self-preservation
Healthier for sure.
Just compare what happens AFTER you’ve noshed your graze.
In a restaurant – if you’re that posh – they’ll whip away the tablecloth and replace it with a fresh one. New cutlery and glasses are laid, straight out of the dishwasher. Fresh, clean and ready to go for the next punters.
Fast food joints also get the treatment. The debris gets bused away and the hard plastic table gets a spray and a sanitiser wipe down. Usually dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, known as a “quat” compound – probably Clorox, Signet, or a house solution like No 2.
Both at least present clean, welcoming surfaces with a low risk of germs.
Not even OCD types go the whole hog and wipe down everything after eating. Which means every day, the cumulative yuck gets worse.
For starters, it’s pretty well impossible to eat any meal without dropping crumbs or other bits. Gooey stuff too. Mayonnaise out of a salad wrap, tomato sauce off chips, jam squidged out of a doughnut.
Yeah, maybe you’ve got a tissue for that. Or some toilet roll from the loo. But no wet wipes, hey? Antibacterial or otherwise. And certainly not dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride.
The start of the yuck factor
Oh sure, sure. The cleaning team wipe down desks in the evening when they come in. Probably the same damp cloth for all the desks. A lick and a promise at best, just removing the day’s dust.
Which means the gunge and goo and other stuff gets to stay there. Waiting for you, next time.
And what’s it going to be when it happens? Something good and slimming from M&S? Snazzy from Pret A Manger? Cheesy decadence from Domino’s? Or pastry indulgence from Greggs?
All good and easy to eat. Especially on the go. Head down and staring at the laptop. Free hand hovering with the next mouthful.
Though please say you washed your hands before you started. That you didn’t just rush out early to beat the lunch queue, then nip back and start munching. Or that you’re using the keyboard while you do that, licking your fingers to get the gravy off.
Gruesome yes, but that’s what most us do without thinking. And curse the tummy bug we always seem to be getting. Must be something to do with the office, carpets giving off or whatever.
Saving you from yourself
OK, the hell with that – get a rescue pack.
Less than 50p and you can get a bottle of hand gel to sit on your desk. Keep yourself safe whenever you start anything new – quicker and easier than running to the washroom.
Wet wipes too are probably under a quid. Handy in your top drawer for a quick wipe down first thing – and again before you eat.
Don’t forget to lift things up and do underneath. Especially your laptop – that yuck line of crumbs and smears comes back daily otherwise.
You should wipe the keys too. Look at them against the light and you can see the glaze of goo clinging there. And don’t forget your touchscreens.
Ever looked at your phone closely after a call? Make-up, facial grease, dead skin flakes and street dust. You don’t want to know.
Because so far in this rant, we haven’t mentioned germs. All we’ve been on about is how everything gets dirty even though we can’t see it most of the time.
But you’d better believe there’s germs around Big Time because of that dirt. And still hanging around AFTER cleaning as well, because no rub and scrub method in the world can reach all the places that germs congregate.
So face it. At any one time in your working day, your desk is exposing you to the risks of e.coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, the superbug MRSA, cold and flu viruses and norovirus – and those are just the usual suspects.
Plus of course, these germs transfer onto everything that touches your desk too. Your hands, the memos in your in-tray, stapler, phone, calculator, lamp, mouse-pad, business cards, whatever.
And THEY transfer to whatever touches them. Which is how your colleagues get the same tummy bug you have. And you get that skin rash they’ve got.
All of which means wash your hands whenever you can. Cleanse them whenever you can’t get to soap and water. And start being paranoid about keeping your desk clean.
Because you wouldn’t eat at a restaurant where they didn’t clean the table, would you? Get served your food on the remnants of everybody else’s. But that’s what we’re doing at our desks.
It’s not just ON our desks either. It’s AROUND them. The cupboards, the chairs, the shelving, all the wires down the back.
Plus in the AIR.
All those germy things are so small, even smoke particles are 1,000 times bigger. Which means they float, riding every swirl and eddy. So light, they may never come down. Ready for you to swallow or breathe in. Right through the empty space that’s 80% of any room.
Clean your hands, clean your desk – those guys can still get you.
Unless your boss is smart and gets them first. Blitzes them to nothing with a Hypersteriliser – the automated germ killer that mists up the whole place with hydrogen peroxide. Viruses and bacteria are oxidised to oblivion, nothing, gone.
Not so happy about reaching under there, huh? Can’t blame you. Maybe there’s a deposit, maybe there isn’t.
Untouched, unclean, unsafe
Then ask yourself, has it EVER been cleaned under there? How about under your chair? How about under other tables and things? Ew!
Yeah, right. Workplace germs de luxe.
There’s lots of places out of sight that don’t checked, ever. Out of the way places, not on the radar, too difficult to reach.
Try another test, still sitting at your desk.
Reach over your computer screen, as far as you can, and wipe your finger along the back edge of your desk.
Grime, grit and dust bunnies, huh?
However hot your cleaning team is, they don’t have time or the right gear to get to places like that. Nor will they try. All those wires, something could trigger a fire. Better to leave it alone, so they do.
Ditto for the jumble of cables behind the main office file server. Or behind anywhere – photocopier, whiteboards, cupboard – the same grime, grit and dust bunnies. Full time workplace germs.
Not the place to eat
Which means you might want to rethink your habit of eating al desko, which most of us do. There’s more workplace germs there than you think there are – and those pizza-drippy fingers going straight to keyboard aren’t exactly helping.
To gross yourself out even further, shine a torch between the keys on your keyboard. Or check the finger smears on your touchscreen. Visible signs of workplace germs. More gruesome than you thought, hey?
So even though the place LOOKS clean, swish and professional, you and your colleagues are more at hazard than you think. Workplace germs all over. 10 million germs on your desk alone – and that’s just the average.
Easy lurking place for a grab-bag of unpleasant surprises. Like e.coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, the superbug MRSA, cold and flu viruses or norovirus. Any one of them could put you off work with cramps, runs and diarrhoea – or even send you to hospital if it gets serious.
Still sitting at your desk?
OK, now look at the space that all of you move around in. Yes, the air itself – the nothing that fills up most of the room.
Except it’s not nothing. Ever noticed how the sun’s rays catch dust particles when the angle is right? Sometimes so full of them you can’t see through – billions and billions of tiny specks.
Yes well, those are the ones visible to the naked eye. Most ordinary germs like staphylococcus or e.coli are 10,000 times smaller. And lighter too.
Those dust particles are there all the time – wafting, floating, swirling. You just don’t see them when the light is wrong.
Up in the air
Bacteria and viruses are there too. More workplace germs. Light enough that they may never drop to the floor. Too many air currents and temperature variations.
Which means forget what you’ve heard that not all germs are airborne. ALL germs ride the air as well as clinging to surfaces.
Get a big enough clump of them together at once – and they’ll do you down just as quickly as any you’ve picked up on your hands that are now transferring to your chicken caesar wrap.
There’s plenty other workplace germs around too – we bring them in with us. Each of us trails around our own personal cloud of bacteria, dead skin cells and other body detritus all the time – our uniquely individual bio-signature.
Most of them are benign to us, or even beneficial. But not necessarily to our colleagues. Because everyone’s different and so are their metabolisms, bacteria that are benign to us might be harmful to them. Or the other way around.
More days off sick without ever knowing why.
The safe escape
All entirely preventable.
Because professional though they are, the services that currently do the cleaning and germ disinfection are not adequate enough. Not if 80% germs against you is too big a risk. Too iffy against absenteeism, which currently costs the country £29 billion a year.
Time to get in the Hypersteriliser people – with a nifty machine about the size of a small wheelie-bin.
What it does is mist up the place with an ultra-fine, self-dispersing cloud of ionised hydrogen peroxide – stuff which gets everywhere, all the nooks and crannies. Behind and under everything too, the places we were concerned about earlier.
Potent, yes – but eco-friendly.
Ionising makes it a super-performer with just a 6% solution, like you can buy at the chemist.
Not so friendly with viruses and bacteria though. It reaches out and grabs them, ripping their cells apart. Give the stuff around 40 minutes in the average room and all germs are eliminated – at least, 99.9999% of them – a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6.
Which means next morning, the germ threshold is reduced to zero. The dust bunnies are still there of course, but the germs clinging to them are no more. There’s no germs in the air either, gone to oblivion. The place is safe and germ-free for everyone who walks in.
Slightly better than the 80% workplace germs you started with, hey?
That’s what antibiotics do, they kill bacteria. Hopefully whichever strain it is that’s making you ill.
But inevitably they kill other bacteria as well. The good bacteria unluckily alongside. Antibiotics don’t know how to tell the difference.
Working with killers
So be aware, when your doctor prescribes antibiotics, she knows she’s prescribing a killer.
A pretty momentous decision when you realise that our bodies are more bacteria than human. We might think we’re in charge, but it’s the 90% bacteria colonised inside us that call the shots.
Which means that clobbering a few million bacteria unintentionally might be more hazardous than it seems. Collateral damage with sometimes serious consequences. Suicide option 1.
Gut bacteria usually take the hit, so that’s where the trouble starts. How many of us haven’t complained of nausea or diarrhoea while taking antibiotics?
Sometimes it’s worse than that – and unexpected. Torn Achilles tendon (levaquin), mood instability (fluoroquinolone derivatives), bruising and bleeding (augmentin) or eczema, wheezing, and asthma in children under two (all types).
Not good, when you remember that gut bacteria are there to process digestion, create proteins, regulate the immune system and many other functions.
Then there’s the damage you can’t see, but there’s plenty of evidence.
Antibiotics somehow suppress the control that tells us when to stop eating (leptin hormone). Even more critical, they cause the digestion bacteria to extract more nutrients from food than they should. Energy is over-absorbed instead of passing as waste, so the body stores it as fat.
The slippery slope to obesity. Suicide option 2.
Yes, the gut recovers from an antibiotic hit – likened by some researchers to releasing a hydrogen bomb. But it never comes back 100% to the way it was.
Some bacteria types can regenerate. Others, the rarer kind, might disappear altogether – and whatever their function was, is lost. Which seems to be what happens with putting on weight. Obese people find it next to impossible to get the weight off – their stomachs are jammed at full throttle.
Boosted weight gain
Which explains why antibiotics are used as growth boosters in agriculture. In quantities that boggle the mind. 240,000 tonnes a year currently and set to rise nearly 70% in the next 15 years.
The growth boosting and weight gain is truly phenomenal. From egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks – or from new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years. All achieved by low sub-therapeutic doses added regularly to animal feed.
Which means we get the same low dose of growth boosters as well. We eat them, we ingest the antibiotics in their systems – even though antibiotic additives are withdrawn from feed by law for a set period before going to market.
They’re still laced with them because their bodies work the same way ours do. Remember how antibiotics make our stomachs over-absorb nutrients? Well most livestock animals only absorb around 20% of the food value they chew.
The rest is excreted as manure – to enrich the soil and be taken up by plants. To leach down into the water table too, out into our rivers and into our water supply. And folded back to the animals in the grass they graze, or the soy, maize or whatever in their feed.
In everything we eat
Which also means everything we eat or drink is laced with antibiotics too – meat or veg. Some of them added to boost plant growth and control blight – but most ingested directly or indirectly from the fertile soil.
Waiting for us to come along and innocently nosh it, thinking that a vegetarian diet will save us from the perils of eating meat.
Which brings us back to obesity – if not already triggered by medicine, then activated drip-drip, by the daily intake with every meal. And it’s happening too.
Look around. Already two thirds of UK adults are overweight or obese – and a third of children. The fat epidemic is upon us – quite independently of pizzas, burgers and sugary drinks. Keep up there, Jamie – this is important.
And what does obesity bring? A long, slow decline as the body subsides into complications – asthma, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer. A one-way ticket to long term misery. Suicide option 3.
Doctors recognise the epidemic – a time-bomb set to swamp the NHS as us fatties deteriorate into long-term repeat patients. They’ve got their hands full with a more immediate crisis though – antimicrobial resistance.
Rise of the superbugs
The miracle live-savers we trust antibiotics are, are fast becoming useless as bacteria adapt and become immune – turning into superbugs. Right now, today, there’s hardly a drug in the cupboard that bacteria haven’t found a way to resist.
MRSA, acinetobacter baumannii, CRKP, e.coli, ESBL, NDM-1, pseudomonas aeruginosa, streptococcus are all bugs that have learnt – and create genes that teach other bugs how survive too. Suicide option 4.
Which means, when you come down to it, that all antibiotics are only temporary. They might last two years, they might last ten. But sooner or later, bacteria will learn how to survive whatever we throw at them – and we’ll go back to being vulnerable.
Because you can’t beat bacteria. Don’t forget, we’re 90% bacteria ourselves. And they’re the most successful life form the world has ever seen – learning to survive for billions and billions of years – among the very first living things.
So the big thing that doctors are worried about is when ALL antibiotics fail altogether. Because then modern medicine falls apart. No more heart transplants, hip replacements or caesarean births – we’re back to the Dark Ages, our failsafe is gone.
The day when that happens is hurtling towards us too. With animals gulping down 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics a year, bacteria are getting plenty of opportunity to try, try, try until they succeed at finding a way to survive them. Superbugs are on the rise.
So ban antibiotics
Big pressure is mounting, among doctors and health gurus, to have antibiotics banned from agriculture altogether. Fat hope of that – quite literally.
Thanks to antibiotic growth boosters, world population now is THREE times the size it was since they were first introduced. So is food production – off the same-sized planet. Banning them would cut food production, triggering worldwide famine and two thirds of us would die from starvation. Suicide option 5.
Just possibly though, bacteria will do the job for us.
Antimicrobial resistance doesn’t only sick superbugs on humans. It sicks them on animals too. Our miracle drugs will stop working on them, same as us. So they will die anyway. And world famine will happen just the same.
Because you can’t beat bacteria, it’s like beating ourselves. We’re 90% bacteria anyway, so even trying it is suicide. A demonstration that if we can’t do things naturally, we will get zapped.
There’s too many of us anyway, so this is Nature correcting a speed wobble. Chop the numbers, we read you – and we got the email.
We’ve had the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, the super-volcano of Yellowstone, the Black Death, two World Wars, the global flu of 1918 – now it’s time for suicide.
Forget all you ever thought about antibiotics being medicine. Here’s a crunch issue bigger than any we’ve ever faced.
Bigger than global warming, bigger than thermo-nuclear war, maybe even bigger than a massive asteroid strike.
Already impossible to stop
It’s a crunch we face now, with repercussions going on for the next 30 or 40 years. All caused by antibiotics – or more accurately, our own shocking misuse of them.
Because, no, no, no, not medicine. Around 80% or more of world production goes into agriculture. Shovelled into plants and animals in industrial quantities – as the most phenomenal quick-acting GROWTH BOOSTERS of all time.
And we mean phenomenal. Bigger, better, faster – a money-making miracle too.
50 years ago, when the growth boosting side-effects of antibiotics were first discovered, the world’s population was 2½ billion. And every inch of farming land was flat-out, producing food to feed them. Even then, it wasn’t enough. There were shortages, with millions going hungry.
Today, our world population has swelled to a whopping 7½ billion. But the world hasn’t got any bigger. The planet is still the same size as it was 50 years ago. THREE times the people feeding off exactly the SAME land space.
Because the miracle difference is antibiotics, particularly in the last 20 years.
Growth boosting by numbers
Amazingly, just by boosting animal and plant growth worldwide, the same land can now support a population that’s THREE times bigger.
But it’s not going to stop is it?
By 2050, world population will be bursting at the seams with a massive 9.7 billion of us – rising to 11.2 billion by 2100. Numbers in Africa alone are expected to double – reaching 4.2 billion by the end of the century. That’s the same as the entire world population in 1977, barely 40 years ago.
Which means don’t expect the use of antibiotics in agriculture to slow down any time soon. With ANOTHER 3.7 billion of us to feed by the end of the century, factories are going to be blasting round the clock to keep pace.
It’s going to be with all the regular antibiotics our doctors know and love too. Trimethoprim, oxytetracycline, ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, cefotaxime, doxycycline, sulfamethoxazole, erythromycin, clarithromycin and ofloxacin are all regularly used by the JCB-load.
And not just the regulars, it’s the emergency ones too. Even colistin – regarded by medics as the ultimate medicine of last resort – was being pumped into pigs at 11,942 tonnes per annum at the end of last year.
There’s only one problem.
With that kind of consumption, currently around 240,000 tonnes a year, the bacteria they’re being used against have had ample opportunity to develop resistance. Already, so many have developed immunity to antibiotics, that doctors are now looking at an Armageddon where ALL of them stop working.
And here’s the crunch. Well, Crunch 1, at any rate.
Thanks to this antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the world-wide move to limit antibiotics in agriculture is gathering ground – a tadpole going up against a whale.
Because it’s not going to happen is it?
Pull the plug on antibiotics in agriculture and suddenly there’s not enough food. Enough for only 2½ billion, not the 7½ billion we are today. Which means 5 billion people are going to go hungry. TWO THIRDS of the world population.
Famine on a scale never seen before. And what government, anywhere, is going to want that on their hands?
Like it or not, antibiotics are a train we cannot get off. Which means thanks for jumping up and down, Doc, we’re going to carry on as is.
The “bigger” problem
Which brings us to Crunch 2.
Only this time, Doc, you’re not jumping up and down enough. Not nearly enough.
Because right now, thanks to antibiotics, we’re also staring at the biggest medical crisis of all time.
Two thirds of adults are already at the start of this slippery slope. So are one third of children. And it all comes back to why antibiotics are used in agriculture – they make living things fatter.
Since we’re all chowing down food that contains the most phenomenal quick-acting GROWTH BOOSTERS of all time, we’re getting fat too.
All triggered by antibiotics. Which all of us – unknowingly – are already on. A low background dose in every food we eat – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit. Milk too. Even the water we drink.
Think again. Surprisingly, farm animals only absorb around 20% of the nutrients they eat. The rest is excreted, to become the manure that fertilises plant crops and enriches the soil. Rain soaks it deep into the earth, leaching through into our rivers.
So we’re getting the antibiotics alright. In sub-therapeutic doses with every meal, just like the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion each of sheep and pigs that currently feed us.
And if antibiotics can boost metabolisms from an egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks – or from new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years – what are they doing to us?
Yeah, maybe we’re fat like the gurus tell us, because we lounge around playing computer games all day, glugging Coke and pigging out on pizza. And sure, that kind of couch potato lifestyle has got to have an influence.
But ask yourself, how come so MANY of us have got so large in the last 20 years? The same time period that antibiotics in food production have ramped up Big Time.
Those phenomenal growth boosters are working on us too, through the food we eat – and we’re paying the price.
Which means, face it – we’re going to get fatter and fatter. And lumps of lard, we’ll all fall victims to too much nutrient intake – making ourselves candidates for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and worse.
It doesn’t happen to the animals, their lives are too short. Which is why there’s no scandal or outcry, the issue is invisible.
But us humans have decades ahead of us. Plenty of time for the slow, debilitating effects of obesity to take hold, for the complications to set in, ready to drag us down to an unpleasant and premature death.
If in doubt, panic
Crunch time, world wide. In an epidemic that has crept up on us with such stealth, our watchdog heavies have yet to respond to beyond the odd rumblings about sugar tax and collectively throwing their hands up.
But yes, it’s happening – and two thirds of us are already on the slippery slope.
It will keep happening too, even if antibiotics are removed altogether from medical use, because they don’t work. Our daily dose will come through in our food and drink, continuing to overstimulate our absorption processes.
We won’t even know it’s happening, till we tip the scales further than we ever used to – and waistbands somehow expand larger than we ever dreaded.
Even going vegetarian won’t avoid antibiotics exposure, because the damage will already have been done. Jump-started by antibiotics fed to us for childhood ailments – fat by the time we’re five, with an even fatter future on the way.
So there we have it. Crunch, crunch. Famine or obesity.
And it’s our own fault too. We opened the Pandora’s Box of antibiotics by our own choice. We wanted to go bacteria-bashing and failed to think through the consequences.
Now we have no options. The issue is too big to address because we’ve never learned – all nations together – to unite in the face of a common cause.
Unless we do though, we’re going to wind up either very hungry – or big, bulky and helpless, like the dinosaurs.
It’s a rolling threat too. Persistent – and really nasty. Able to shut a whole company down for weeks.
Worse, it keeps coming back. Attached to emails, or via the phone. Certainly through your laptop or tablet.
Better get onto IT pronto. That’s Infection Troubleshooting, in case you were wondering.
Real virus, real bug, real illness
Because this thing is not digital or electronic. It’s physical and affects you personally. That’s what real viruses do. Or bacteria. Or fungi.
So it’s not rebooting or resetting your CPU we might be looking at. It’s a possible full-blown medical emergency, admitting you to ICU. In full quarantine if it’s serious.
Yes, THAT kind of virus.
The kind makes you run a fever. Breaks you out in sweats. Has you coughing your soul out. Twists your gut with wrenching cramps. Clamps you to the loo with acid runs. Makes you upchuck all your insides. Spins your brain doolally. Turns your muscles to water. Makes you ill for days or weeks. Keeps attacking until you’re dead.
They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere
A GERM virus. That kind of threat.
One of the many billions that surround us every day. Sitting on the paper your email is printed on. Lurking in the finger smears on your smartphone touch-screen. Same thing with the keypad and visual display screen of your other devices. Wafting in the air all around.
Which means it’s not computer downtime we’re worried about, that’s fixable.
We’re talking about a major people outage – absenteeism across the board. The downside threat that costs British business a hefty £29 billion a year.
Everybody caught by a stupid bug that goes round like wildfire – and the whole company is down the tubes.
Of course none of us want to believe it, but a hefty chunk of this threat is caused by our own sloppy hygiene. The awkward and embarrassing truth that we just don’t wash our hands.
Because we can’t SEE germs – microscopically invisible at just 3 microns across and less – we reckon our hands are clean. Reality is that while 99% of us claim to wash our hands after going to the loo, only 32% of men and 64% of women actually do.
And out of those who actually do wash, a whopping 95% of us don’t even do the job properly.
But it’s not just our hands.
Everything around is covered in germs too. The threat is everywhere. Exactly how badly depends on how often a thing gets cleaned or not. The average office desk, for instance, caries at least 10 million germs – even though the place is probably vacuumed out every night and everything wiped down.
Most of the time we’re OK with it, the germs are benign or we’re immune to them. But not everybody else is. So they can catch all manner of illnesses, just by being in the same room with us.
And what about the room? It too has it’s own quota of germs – an aggregate of everything brought in by everybody else. PLUS whatever blew in, or was already there in the first place.
Billions and billions of viruses, spores and bacteria – so light they may never fall to ground. Waiting to be breathed in or swallowed by whoever happens to be there. Corralled and intensified by the four walls that surround us – we do after all live indoors 90% of the time.
Yeah, so that’s why the virus alert. Or bacteria, or fungi.
Right now with everybody coming back from holiday, maybe it’s norovirus or flu. Or from unwashed hands, maybe campylobacter or escherichia coli.
Whatever it is, any one of them can kill. Perhaps not directly, but we are our own worst enemies. Dragging ourselves into work when we feel like death. From misplaced sense of duty or threat to job security, it doesn’t matter which.
We let our illnesses get bad, we infect everyone else – then complications set in. Dehydration, blood poisoning, organ failure. The kind of thing that IT can do nothing about – either the computer or medical kind.
Getting our own back
But there is an escape – so simple, it’s surprising more companies haven’t thought of it before.
Sterilise the place every night, so every day starts with zero germ-hazard.
And not just the surfaces either – all the nooks and crannies and even the air itself. Right down to the smears on your laptop. The sticky finger marks might still be there – but the germs are dead and gone.
Dead easy and simple too. Using a Hypersteriliser, the place gets misted up with ionised hydrogen peroxide. Dry, so vital connections are safe and secure. A mild, eco-friendly 6% solution, so sensitive materials are unaffected.
Amazing things, these computer tablets. If you haven’t got your paws on one yet, you’re certainly missing out.
Not necessarily on being the latest with the greatest though.
On the contrary, lucky you. You’re much more likely missing out on catching the latest illnesses doing the rounds – a tummy bug, this year’s flu gremlin, or something more serious.
You see, sexy though these must-have glamour tablets are, their very key feature is also the most dangerous from a personal point of view. That touch-screen might be now and wow and amazing – it’s also a germ factory.
You can see how germ-laden the thing is if you’re OCD about keeping that screen clean. That smooth, snazzy glass shows every fingerprint and smear every time you pick it up – sure evidence of germ-sign.
Notice however much you wipe it clean, within seconds there’s always marks and cloudy spots. Face it, clean as they look, your hands are not as spotless as you think, and your tablet is showing you.
Next stop, that queasy feeling in your stomach – and a dash to the chemist for the strongest pills in the shop to make it go away. Your tablet has driven you to take pills.
Actually, that constantly smudgy screen could be doing you a favour. You can’t see germs, but here is visible proof that your hands can be carriers of all kinds of dodgy nasties. And probably need more hygiene attention than you might perhaps be giving them.
Health hazards everywhere
You don’t know for sure that that long swipey smear down the left is not norovirus. But do you really want to find out? Because if you think about it, when was the last time you washed your hands? And what have you touched since? Are you sure your fingers are as safe as you think they are?
But it’s not just your tablet. There’s other high-touch things around you every day. Which because they’re not private like your go-everywhere tablet, may not receive the constant wipes your personal pride demands.
Touch-screens on fixed devices, for example, may never get cleaned. Or if they are, only once a blue moon. And even then, not in a way that gets rid of germs. Watch out for the control panel on the photo copier, the selection screen on certain ATMs, and the input section of all kinds of scanning or viewing equipment.
Because you can’t clean these things just like that, can you? Soap and water is not exactly a good idea with all those open sockets. Neither is any liquid come to that. And anything that properly kills germs is just as likely to attack the glass or plastic surround. You just can’t win.
So how about the other computer on your desk? The big office job with the full-on pukka keyboard? Look closely at the keys and there’s smear marks there too. Worn through where you constantly type, but obvious round the edges.
And how about all the junk that’s fallen down between the keys? Most of us eat at our desks at some stage, so there’s crumbs and dust and bits of food down there for sure. And the only way to get them out is dismantle the thing.
Look at your tablet again. Those smears are what comes off your hands in just a few seconds. So what’s on all the touchy-feely things around your workplace that possibly never get cleaned at all? Get unlucky and it’s more than pills you need – you could wind up in A&E, pumped full of antibiotics.
You’re clean, but that doesn’t solve anything does it?
Yeah, the office gets vacuumed every night and the waste baskets emptied. The swamp-out team might even go over all the desks with a damp rag. Whole office germ-transfer if it’s the same rag every time.
Meanwhile the high-touch stuff never gets anything. Checking the smears on your tablet again, how safe are lift buttons, light switches and keypads that everyone uses every day without thinking?
Germs, more than you think, right?
And the only reason that more of you aren’t booked off sick more often is that you’re sort of OK most of the time. The place at least has proper ventilation, good loos and is kept reasonably neat.
You can see now though, can’t you, how researchers reckon the average desk may have anything up to 10 million germs on it? And that’s not even THINKING about the other germs up in the air, swirling around, invisible, waiting to be breathed in or swallowed.
Microscopically smaller than dust, they can float around for ever, too light to fall to the floor. Which means the air itself – maybe 80% of the room space – is full of germs too. Your body’s immune system has its work cut out, keeping you safe and healthy. And this is a modern West End office for Pete’s sake, not some far distant, fever-ridden mangrove swamp!
Yeah, half a second thinking about it, and you’re much more at hazard than you ever imagined. If your tablet is a germ factory, the whole office is a major germ-infested health hazard.
Eliminating the germs
So what is your boss doing about it? Vacuum cleaners and a wet rag aren’t nearly half good enough, are they?
Which is why canny offices, looking to eliminate workplace illnesses, are starting to look at regular sterilising.
Every night, once the place is cleaned, a mobile Hypersteriliser unit is brought in to mist up the place with hydrogen peroxide. Because it’s airborne and ionised, the super-effective antimicrobial gets everywhere, eliminating viruses and bacteria – including on the still-smeared lift buttons and phone keypads.
Next morning, the place is germ-free – all health hazards removed, safe for everyone to begin their working day – no pills necessary.
Now if there was just a way to keep the smears off those tablet touch-screens…
It’s not the ABC they teach at med school. But they should.
Dead basic and deadly, it’s something we should all learn.
Because it’s written all over our kids for our refusal to take it in.
Written all over us too – in Large, Extra Large and Extra-Extra Large.
Especially when you say it in the way our little mites might.
“A” is for antibiotics… which cause “B” is for ‘besity… which causes “C” is for cancer.
Our miracle medicines trigger one of the biggest killers we have ever faced.
Don’t believe it?
We’d all better – before it becomes the death of us.
Not what we want to hear
Start with A, antibiotics.
Not as the miracle life-savers we’ve relied on to rescue us again and again.
But as the world’s greatest and most successful growth boosters. Used in agriculture by the JCB-load – to produce livestock bigger, faster and accelerate plant growth. 240,000 tonnes of it, every year.
Back in the 50s, there were 2½ billion of us on the planet – survivors of two World Wars and the biggest flu pandemic ever – which killed more than both wars together.
That was when farmers first started using antibiotics. As amazing growth promoters. Incredibly fast fatteners. Mind-blowing money-makers.
If ever there was a miracle, this was it. From egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years.
But now today, our numbers have swollen to a massive 7½ billion – THREE TIMES more of us.
Except the world itself of course, is still the same size it always was. Which means THREE TIMES more food is being produced off the same land as it was 60 years ago. A major miracle, yes – but nothing to do with saving lives.
All gut reflexes
The mechanics of it are simple.
Antibiotics in feedstuffs interfere with gut bacteria in livestock stomachs. They switch off the reflex that says when enough has been eaten. And more significantly, they cause the animal to absorb food more efficiently – extracting way more nutrients than the 20% they normally suck out.
Which is triggering obesity, right? The ‘besity “B” in our alphabet.
The animal gets very big, very quickly – exactly as the farmer wants.
But unlike us, the obesity never gets any worse than achieving large size. Once they reach their selling weight, all the animals are trucked off to market. Time to get eaten.
Their shorter existence experiences none of the miseries. The years of going downhill, always an effort to do anything, wheezing breath, sweats and flushes, faltering heartbeat, body organs failing under the strain – the unrelenting start of more serious conditions.
Asthma, diabetes, heart disease… cancer.
And there it is, the “C” in our simple ABC.
Cancer. The fate we can all look forward to – because we’re all of us exposed to antibiotics.
Some of it is triggered by antibiotics for medical conditions. Worried Mums and concerned doctors ensure most infants are probably prescribed them several times in early years.
All very responsible and properly motivated, except for one thing. Research is increasingly showing that children administered antibiotics before 2 years of age are often obese by the time they are 5.
So what about the rest of us?
Like it or not, we’re subjected to continuous antibiotic exposure with pretty well everything we eat.
Though meat on sale in UK is supposed to be antibiotic-free, this simply means that antibiotics have not been administered in feedstuffs over a specified period of withdrawal prior to selling.
Inevitably, however, there will be antibiotic residues contained within whatever animal feed is used – absorbed by plants from antibiotics-laden manure used as fertiliser, or extracted from the ground itself.
All animals, ourselves included, only absorb a proportion of the nutrients they eat. Most of them are excreted as waste, to become part of Nature’s on-going food chain for other living things.
A typical cow for instance, only absorbs 20% or so of the food it swallows. The resulting manure feeds all kinds of plant crops, enriches grazing grass, and leaches into the soil deep down into the water table.
As a result, sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics are everywhere throughout the food chain – occurring even in samples of water taken from the Thames. Whatever we eat or drink, we’re getting another dose.
Fatter and fatter
Which means we’re under exactly the same conditions as animals deliberately bulked up for market. Unintentionally – and worse, without even being aware of it – we’re fattening ourselves up into obesity every single day, setting ourselves up for cancer or other major complications ten, twenty, or thirty years down the line.
Forget low exercise or pigging out on junk food – we were just as lazy and indulgent 60 years ago, before antibiotics. And as Lord McColl said recently in the House of Lords, we’re fat because we absorb too many calories, period.
So our real problem is digestive systems that absorb too much, glitched that way by regular doses of oxytetracycline, ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, sulfamethoxazole, erythromycin, clarithromycin or whatever else it is that we’re swallowing with every mouthful.
Time to face facts. We’re all going to get fat, it’s just a matter of when – depending on what we eat, in what proportion, and at whatever level our metabolisms are.
Antibiotics equals ‘Besity equals Cancer. No wonder children’s cases are on the up.
Simple ABC, yet how many doctors know it – or have even thought of it?