Antibiotics: we got them wrong like Fleming said – and now we’ve totally blown it

Doc with bugs
All this worrying with antibiotics resistance neglects the even bigger killer of obesity

Miracle lifesavers, antibiotics. But like Fleming predicted back in the 50s, a double-edged sword.

Because yes, antibiotics did what that they said on the tin – kill bacteria. Except they bounced back if you didn’t kill enough of them.

A bit like bombing an ants’ nest, which all the pest control guys can tell you about. Make sure you get ALL the ants – because if there’s any survivors, they’ll be back.

Not only that, they’ll be uglier and tougher – better able to withstand the next bomb you chuck them. Tougher resistance, a new strength to breed into all future generations.

Exactly like bacteria – which develop antimicrobial resistance if not clobbered hard enough. Mutating to a new superbug that antibiotics can’t kill.

And because bacteria can interact with each other, passing on their immunity to other bacteria types. Antibiotic resistance out of nowhere, even though never exposed to them.

Wrong and wronger

All of which is now rubbished by new research just published in the British Medical Journal – that antibiotics should be used sparingly – until the patient is better and not necessarily until the fully prescribed course runs out.

Yeah, right.

Like swallowing only one paracetamol capsule for that thumping headache instead of two – so there’s more left when it’s needed. How does that work?

Frankly if there’s bacteria giving you grief and you’re at death’s door, common sense says keep going to make sure you get rid of all of them. No pussy-footing round with half-measures that let your symptoms recur.

Exactly like if you’re painting a floor, you buy enough to cover the whole thing – not just a small tin that does half of it.

Yeah, but – the research boffins are going to say. There’s no evidence to suggest that under-dosing  causes antibiotic resistance.

Sure guys, whatever.

Growth boosters

But there’s a MONUMENTAL stack of evidence that under-dosing DOES boost body growth. Fleming and his team came across that from the get-go. A phenomenon that farmers have been relying on for the last 50 years – to produce enough food to support the nearly THREE TIMES population explosion the world has had since.

OK, good – so there’s enough food. Achieved by making animals grow bigger, faster.

But now the tail’s wagging the dog.

Because the boffins haven’t twigged it yet, but it’s staring us in the face.

With antibiotics already being gobbled up by animals, that means there’s antibiotics in everything we eat. Not big doses, meant to kill bacteria. But little drip-drip doses, deliberately used to make bodies grow fatter.

In other words, ours. Because – surprise, surprise – we’re animals too.

So behold the “overfat” girls of the UK and the US – the fattest in the world.

Better include Australia, Canada and all of Western Europe too – it’s become an epidemic. Because fact: two thirds of British adults are already seriously overweight or obese – and so are one third of our kids.

Uh huh, the writing’s on the wall, so listen up BMJ readers  – antibiotics cause obesity.

Obesity epidemic

It starts with childhood, where the first antibiotics we get trigger infant obesity.  Followed up by steady antibiotics throughout adolescence, so that by the time a teenager reaches 20, they’ve been exposed to antibiotics at least SEVENTEEN TIMES.

And all the time we’re all getting drip-drip under-doses of antibiotics every day. In the meat we eat. In the vegetables grown with manure from the same animals, or in soil enriched from the same source. They’re even in our water supply, leached in through the soil to our streams and rivers.

Right now the medics are worried about antibiotic resistance and that 700,000 people will die.

But obesity leads to… Fleming would turn in his grave.

Take your pick from asthma, diabetes, limb amputation, heart disease or cancer – a long, slow death for 30 MILLION people – almost half the population of UK.

30 MILLION people – how wrong do you want to get?

And it’s not going to stop, because antibiotics are essential to sustain food production for the 7½ billion people that inhabit the planet today. Pull the plug, and food levels go back to the 1950s and 5 BILLION people will die.

Like we said, how wrong do you want to get?

Not short-term lifesavers, but long-term killers.

Fleming was right, we’d get antibiotic resistance.

Except that’s not the problem any more. It’s the obesity epidemic.

But instead of searching round for an ALTERNATIVE, like bacteriophages – all our top medics blame SUGAR and look the other way.

Any excuse to avoid reality, hey?

Sick on holiday: fake claim or genuine, why it’s usually your fault

Fake travel sickness
Yes, we can be unlucky – but with food poisoning we’re most of us red-handed

Fake claims are in the news lately.

Food poisoning, mostly.

Massive demands that backfire as travel firms put up a fight. Big penalties too.

£25K for a woman in Wales.

An upcoming dispute already topping £52K for a family in Liverpool.

Not the holiday bonanza anyone was hoping for. And bad for all of us, fake claims like these are on the rise.

Yeah well, with in-your-face “ambulance-chasers” tempting us to make get-rich-quick claims right there on our sun-loungers, we ought to expect hotels and travel companies to play hardball.

Sure, being ill on holiday is the pits and feels like the end of the world. But if it’s really genuine and LOOKS LIKE IT, as long as we get medical help and advise our accommodation people immediately, there should be no problem.

Fake claim, false blame

It is after all, not easy to fake high temperature, body sweats, continuous vomiting and diarrhoea.

That said though, there’s still the awkward reality that it’s most likely our own fault.

Why?

Because food poisoning is basically all about contamination. We ingest germs with whatever we eat, our bodies react, we get sick.

And our own hands – which go everywhere and do everything – are the most contaminated of all.

Not that we want to accept that.

When food poisoning strikes, we usually blame (or our solicitors do):

  • Kitchen staff not washing THEIR hands in preparing food
  • Dirty kitchen utensils
  • Mix-ups of raw and cooked meat
  • Food prepared in a dirty environment
  • Hazardous chemicals (like cleaning agents) contaminating food
Hygiene from hell

But we’re not so goody-goody ourselves. Even when we’re at home, our hygiene record is scary.

On holiday, it’s even worse.

Because, think about it – we’re out and about, doing stuff. Who wants to stop and wash hands?

On the go all the time, we’re trying to maximise our experience. In a few days, we’ll have to fly home again.

So we’re up at sparrow’s tweet and never let up. Rushing here, cruising there – no chance to even think of washing hands. And often with nowhere to do so, even if we wanted to.

Uh huh.

So whatever it is, lunch or dinner, there’s often a whole day in front of sitting down at table. And our hands have touched everything imaginable on the way.

Down the hatch – oooh!

And guess what?

Few of us are in the 12% of hand washers, so we just sit there and scoff.

And because it’s holiday, odds are likely that we’re eating straight with our hands.

Burgers, pizza, wraps, sandwiches, fish and chips, kebabs, ice creams – they’re all feelgood holiday favourites we can’t get enough of.

So it’s down the hatch and licking our fingers, with nary a thought about clean anything – unless our hands are VISIBLY dirty. Fake confidence.

Four hours later – ooh, I don’t feel so good.

Now whatever it is kicks in and ruins the holiday.

Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, e.coli, c.difficile – they all give us the runs and have us spewing our guts out.

But don’t worry. That nice man at the poolside said just get a chemist’s receipt for Imodium and you can claim it all back – EasyJet, care hire, the hotel, everything.

Reputation management

Yeah, right.

One finger pointing, three others pointing back.

For a hotel or restaurant to fall down on hygiene is bad news – even in darkest Peru.

There’s reputation at stake, a licence to lose, a whole livelihood to go down the tubes.

Which means sure, slip-ups happen. But they’re not the norm.

Unless we’ve lucked onto a place teeming with cockroaches and unlikely to pass ANY inspection short of a shutdown, it’s usually our own fault.

Which is dumb when you think about it, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to carry antibacterial wipes or gel. In our handbag or pocket, it goes where we go – our hands can always be safe from germs.

Plus before  we start pointing fingers, most food places are pretty strict about their own standards of hygiene. Tourists bring money, so you can bet everything that can be cleaned will be. Wiped down with bleach, swept, polished and vacuumed within an inch of its life.

In some places, even clobbered with hydrogen peroxide mist to take out ALL the germs. No chance we can fake our way out of that.

Walk in there and the whole place is sterilised. Any hint of food poisoning and they’d probably string us up.

OK, we’re getting itchy feet. Already packed for next week. Passports and boarding passes at the ready.

Got the hand wipes and the gel?

No need to fake anything, just have a good time.

Wheezy question, iffy answer: should we sue for mould at work?

Two men crouching2
Wheezy mould at work is a misery you don’t have to live with

Wheezy, wheezy – isn’t it?

You’re coughing your guts out, that cannot be good.

Your mate’s in agonies, why shouldn’t you have a go?

Not so cut and dried, though – is it?

You sue, and they sling you out on your ear.

Even though there’s mould there, plain as day. Big black marks, right next to your desk.

Sure, it’s hazardous to your health – and sure, you should do something about it.

Health & Safety on your side

But there’s channels for this – big guns on your side.

And there’s no point putting your job on the line.

You already know the score. Mould triggers asthma, chest infections, allergies.

Which means you’re protected by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

Not just against mould, but all kinds of germs – because of the stuff you do and the things you work with. Or just plain germs at work that make you ill.

One phone call to Health & Safety and things start rolling.

Scoring brownie points

But before you make it, there’s maybe things you can do to soften the blow.

No point making enemies if you don’t have to.

Like for instance, you live with the mould every day. But does everyone else?

Maybe the brass don’t know about it and your report is the first.

Thing is though, mould is expensive to fix. And time-consuming.

Like, what’s the cause?

A leaky pipe? Rain seeping through the wall? Busted roof? Or is it ventilation problems? The whole place airtight to hold in warmth, not enough circulation, humidity climbing through the roof – bang, mould everywhere.

In which case, tell the brass there’s a quick-fix way to take the mould down. Get relief from it now, today – before all the hoo-hah of getting inspectors in, building consultants, and ripping the place apart to get rid of it permanently.

The overnight quick-fix

Mist the place up with ionised hydrogen peroxide after everyone’s gone home. The stuff permeates everywhere and oxidises ALL germs to nothing – bacteria, viruses and fungi, which of course includes mould.

Next day, you can tell straight away that it’s worked. Those black marks are now grey – and there’s no pong. Breathe easy instead of wheezy, the air’s safe now. And all that grey stuff just brushes away.

Oh, yes. And doing a non-invasive hit like that is a lot cheaper and faster than hammering and plastering with Bob the Builder all over the place. A real short-term money-saver.

You might even get a raise for it.

Easy, right? And not so wheezy any more.

Health alert: those black mould marks could cost you thousands

Mould accuse
Mould in the workplace is a whole can of worms

So what? Mould marks are everywhere. This is Britain, for heck’s sake – it rains.

Sure it rains. But not inside.

Mould and damp conditions are unhealthy as you can get. For your staff and your balance sheet.

A full house of trouble. Sick building syndrome, asthma, colds, flu, rheumatism, pneumonia. Outbreaks over and over again, accelerating as the mould gets worse.

The paying starts – and never stops

Staff off sick, productivity down the plughole, profits plunging – feelgood become feelbad.

And even worse once the council finds out. Health & Safety people all over you, building inspectors ripping up the walls, dragging days in court.

Then the fines.

How much could you be in for?

Depends.

Could be a one-off £5K fine.

Or the whole deal. Sickness compensation, absentee costs, insurance claims, nasty.

And all on your watch.

Duty of care

Like we said yesterday with legionnaire’s disease, it’s your duty to protect staff against hazards.

And believe us, mould might look like nothing – but those ugly black marks can kill as effectively as any bullet.

All it needs is an underlying complication. Respiratory problems, a weak heart – if your staff member dies, it could even be manslaughter.

Or you could leave it be.

Do nothing and let exposure for healthy staff rack up. Until one day, they have an underlying complication of their own. Or maybe it’s you, lying on oxygen in ICU, wondering if you’ll ever get your life back.

Wet, wet, wet – moisture is the enemy

OK, so do something.

But before you rush off and call in the steam cleaners, remember mould thrives when it’s warm and wet.

So here’s a few no-go words to keep in mind.

Wet, vapour, humidity, condensation, moisture and steam equals mould, respiratory problems and legionella.

Sure, you might get the stuff off the walls. But the lasting moisture accelerates it coming back.

And not just mould, but other pathogens. Viruses, bacteria. Get the place wet, and you’re opening a restaurant for them.

Which means you’ve got to go dry.

Besides, who wants moisture dripping on cables in the IT suite? Or getting into documents, come to that. Crinkled paper, water marks, pages sticking together. Not so easy to look professional.

Wake the tiger

Only one thing for it.

Ionised hydrogen peroxide in an ultra-fine mist. A mild 6% solution that doesn’t need lots of water to help it disperse. So it sits, light and agile in the air, not really wet at all.

A sleeping tiger that wakens to pounce.

Ionising makes it aggressively disperse in all directions. Hard up against all surfaces, probing deep into inaccessible places, clawing through the air itself.

Which means germs don’t stand a chance, including mould. Ionised particles seize them like prey, ripping them to pieces by oxidising their cells.

Look again, and those ugly black marks have turned to grey. Nobody home any more. So with almost no effort, they brush easily away.

No smell either – the usual sign of pathogens at work. All stopped now, the place is sterile.

End of the feelbad.

All germs gone, now for the cause

The place is dry too. No moisture to encourage a comeback. The stuff evaporates to nothing.

Job done.

At least, for now.

Because the mould might be gone, but not the cause.

That leaky roof or busted pipe needs fixing fast, or it will be back again.

And sure, you can keep hitting the place with hydrogen peroxide, your staff will always be safe.

But that won’t get the council off your back. Or the Health & Safety brigade.

Fix the problem, or they WILL hit you.

Like they did with these guys. Leaky pipe, occupational asthma, £12,000 compensation PLUS six months building work to make good.

Not worth the PT – and who wants that kind of black mark against them?

How much could you be paying for invisible liabilities?

Thinking exec
Hmm – money you never even knew you had, all going down the tubes from germs. Enough is enough!

Wait a minute, invisible liabilities?

There’s no gaps on your balance sheet, everything’s all accounted for. What myths are we on about?

Actually, they’re a black hole.

And they’re probably invisible because you’ve written them off as something else.

There’s plenty of evidence of them though.

Just run your finger across your desk. Along the back, where all the computer cables are.

See it now?

Dust, city grime, crumbs from al desko lunches, general office detritus.

Yes, dirt. But that’s not all.

Too small to see, too expensive to ignore

It’s evidence of the real liabilities. Germs too small for the eye to see. That’s why they’re invisible.

OK, so germs. Maybe your office cleaners missed a bit.

Except germs are everywhere, all the time. Even in the air we breathe.

And they’re not all harmless.

Sitting in air conditioned splendour, you may not have heard of legionnaire’s disease.

But it’s your duty as a manager to protect your staff from it. A silly little germ not even a thousandth the thickness of a human hair.

Except that’s the law. As JTF Wholesale found recently when a £1 million fine hit them for neglecting it. And as G4S Cash Solutions discovered when Harlow Council nailed them for £1.8 million.

Which means, don’t mess around – get an expert to advise you.

Deadly too

Because you see, legionnaire’s disease is a nasty killer kind of super-pneumonia. And it breeds in water systems, central heating and air-con cooling towers. In pipes and showers too – anywhere that water lies still for more than a few hours.

Spread by air, once you breathe that in, it’s serious. Especially with a previous condition. Asthma perhaps, or a dicky ticker – even being a smoker is enough. Then it’s hospital and drugs and even then you might not make it.

And that’s just ONE of your invisible liabilities.

There’s plenty of others you can get hit for too – if you don’t take precautions.

Around 30 other notifiable diseases on the governments infectious diseases list. Monsters like cholera, typhoid, measles SARS, smallpox and yellow fever.

Duty of care

Not that you’re likely to see any of them. But it’s your duty to make sure your staff haven’t got them – per the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

Yes, sure – nothing to do with you. Unless it happens.

Nothing like the non-events in your workplace. A few snuffles and tummy bugs – chicken feed.

You wish.

It’s those day-to-day bugs that are your real invisible liabilities.

And we mean day-to-day. Surprisingly, every one of us only feels up to 100% par for two or three days at a time. Otherwise, in some way or other, we’re all off-colour several times a week. An ache, a twinge, an iffy feeling, always something.

Money, money, money

Which is why, for starters, business experts PwC put losses from absenteeism at around £29 billion a year.

Hardly chicken feed.

Even more costly are the heroes who struggle to work when they’re not well. Not fully recovered from something, but worried about job security. Wrestling with flu, and the same worries. Or staggering in with tummy cramps, and determined not to be fired.

Presenteeism, it’s called. And experts reckon it costs 10 times more than absenteeism – £290 billion a year.

Put the two together and that’s £319 billion that illness costs UK businesses.

Germonomics

So let’s see – £319 billion, possible fines of £1 million or more. Oh yes, and if you have a suspected outbreak of any kind, the Health & Safety people have a thing called their fee for intervention, which is also not pocket money.

Plus of course, all the losses caused by under-performing or not fully-focused staff desperate to keep going. Mistakes, missed deadlines, clients rubbed up the wrong way and other disasters. Germonomics we call it – and to calculate what it could be costing your own business, click here.

Seems those invisible liabilities are pretty hefty.

And the fix?

For under £1,000 a month your facilities management people can buy a machine that will ELIMINATE germs for you – as in eradicate, clear out, sterilise.

Or maybe your cleaning service can do it for you for few hundred extra.

A nightly mist-up with ionised hydrogen peroxide and ALL germs are gone – hunted out of existence by a prowling tiger of a germ-killer.

Give yourself a raise

Yeah, there might still be dust and breadcrumbs when you run your finger down your desk. But count on it, there’ll be NO germs. Your place is safe and secure to a 6-log Sterility Assurance Level.

Tell you what else.

You might not have been able to see your invisible liabilities. But you sure as heck won’t be able to hide the sudden dividend that getting rid of them will trigger.

Maybe you’ll even get yourself a raise out of it.