Start with the mirror.
You think that’s you, don’t you?
Well y-e-s, but not entirely.
In fact, far from entirely.
Because our own human body cells are outnumbered by bacteria more than 100 to 1. Every one of them living inside us and actually helping us live. If they weren’t there, we wouldn’t survive.
Not who we think we are
Yeah well, the entire world’s like that. Every living thing is home to whole hosts of bacteria essential to existence. Which makes bacteria way more important than most of us ever think. We’re not infected with them, we’re colonised by them.
So our paranoia about destroying them is most unwise.
So how come this blog is called Back Off, Bacteria? Isn’t that about getting rid of microorganisms?
Far from it.
Reality Number One. Bacteria are vitally necessary for every living function.
But not ALL bacteria are appropriate in every situation.
Campylobacter for instance, occurs naturally in poultry – 75% of chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and wild birds have it in their gut. Somehow it helps in the digestion of whatever they eat – processing the grit perhaps, or balancing natural sugars.
In humans however, campylobacter is highly pathogenic – the most common cause of food poisoning. In the UK alone, 300,000 people die from it every year.
OK, you can see the connection. Chicken is a highly popular source of cheap protein – so the whole food industry is up in arms about the contamination of our top of the pops menu choice.
It occurs naturally in birds, right? It’s SUPPOSED to be there.
So what’s the problem?
Everybody, the Food Safety Agency, producers, supermarkets, chefs, restaurants – all know that if you cook chicken properly, all campylobacter is destroyed. Those wings, drumsticks and nuggets are totally safe to eat.
So, Reality Number Two. Bacteria are only beneficial when they’re in the right place.
Which is why this blog is called Back Off, Bacteria!
Back Off, Bacteria! Get back to where you belong.
There are over 500 microbe types that colonise our gut – bacteriods, peptococci, staphylococci, streptococci, bacilli, clostridia, yeasts, enterobacteria, fuzobacteria, eubacteria, catenobacteria, etc – we don’t need a rogue outsider coming in and upsetting the apple cart.
As long as a bacterium is in the right place, that’s OK.
But the wrong place needs action if you don’t want to sicken and die.
Which is why – first line of defence – you should wash your hands so you don’t ingest some harmful killer bug you can’t see.
And second – you should sterilise your surrounding environment so any other dangerous pathogens can’t invade you any other way.
Out of sight, out of mind
No, it’s not rocket science. But since viruses and bacteria are too small to see, they’re just not on anybody’s radar. Nobody sees any danger, so there isn’t any.
Mistake. The wrong bacterium in the wrong place can kill you as efficiently as any bullet. And just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there – how about cholera, tetanus or TB?
So back to earth. Bacteria are simple, not second-guessing the whole universe all the time like we do.
All they do is eat. And when they can’t find the right food, they eat us – which is what infection is.
They’re also programmed to survive, just like we are. Except they work in minutes and hours, not decades. And they’ve been around for billions of years longer so they’re a hell of a lot better at it.
If one cell dies off, its offspring will carry on. And on, and on, and on – more persistently than we humans ever even get close to.
And you’d better believe it, since they outnumber our own body cells more than 100 to 1, they’re the ones calling the shots, not us.
Who’s the boss?
Think it’s your brain telling the body what to do?
Where do you think we get gut feel from, or the physical symptoms that are triggered by stress?
Butterflies in your tummy? The bacteria are apprehensive, they want to survive. They’re warning you. Don’t do whatever you’re planning to do because there’s danger or unpleasantness ahead.
Yeah, your brain can override them, but at what cost? Acid tummy, shaking muscles, nerves shot to pieces. These guys know which strings to pull – and they do.
Again, Back Off, Bacteria – we’ve got other priorities to satisfy. Like getting through that interview, or proposing to your sweetheart – not all going into combat, or jumping off a cliff.
Bacteria may even have “magic” qualities that makes us think of the supernatural.
As regular readers of this blog will know, bacteria carry a tiny electrical charge positive on the outside, negative on the inside.
It’s this charge that enables negatively-charged ionised hydrogen peroxide molecules to latch onto them only the fly – oxidising them to oblivion in one of the most efficient room sterilising procedures ever.
Researchers have also found that the electrical charge in bacteria like e. coli can actually generate light – creating flashes like Christmas tree lights.
Put that together with the fact that we’re always surrounded by a “bio-cloud” of billions and billions of bacteria all the time – and it’s possible that under the right conditions we really do generate a visible aura.
Better still, as bacteria respond to our changing body conditions, the electrical charge they put out could vary, changing the actual colour of this aura. Maybe not a myth any more, but genuine reality. All those child prodigies, swamis and spiritual mediums might have been right all along.
So yeah – germs, we need ’em.
Let’s just make sure we keep them in a safe place.