Red Alert: smog in China – bio-smog in your office

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Worried woman in mask
Yes, it’s in the air – and our defences are lower than they’ve ever been

It’s Beijing’s first red alert ever. Schools closed, cars banned, visibility down to 600 yards in places.

It’s nasty stuff too. Poisonous particles, like a toxic gas. Essential to wear a face mask.

But at least you can SEE smog. You know it’s hazardous, so you can take precautions.

Invisible killers

Not like germs.

One cell of a virus or bacterium might be only 2 microns across. A millionth the size of a smoke or dust particle. Too small to be visible. A bio-smog.

But it’s a fact of life that germs are all around us, all the time .

They’re even necessary – hard to believe, but we’re mostly composed of bacteria ourselves. 10% human, 90% bacteria.

So it’s kind of essential we look after our bacteria as much as ourselves. Microscopic partners that keep us going, regulate our metabolisms, and even power our immune systems.

Invisible world

Of course the world we live in full of bacteria too, especially the air. Viruses, fungi, mould – all kinds of living organisms. And everything else too – oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, dust, fumes, smoke, particles of this and that. Exactly like smog, only invisible.

Not normally a bad thing either. Most of the time we’re never aware of these swirling, floating clouds of matter.

We even generate our own – a personal aura of surrounding bacteria unique to each of us, plus tiny flecks of dead skin, hair, grease, sweat and other body detritus – a unique body signature we trail around with us wherever we go.

It’s not unlike a force field that keeps bad stuff out. Bad bacteria can’t get into our bodies because our resident good bacteria crowd them away.

Unless an accident lets them in through a cut or skin break. Or we let them in through the sensitive tissue of our eyes, nose and mouth which we unconsciously touch 2,000 – 3,000 times a day. Or if we ingest them with our food, or simply breathe them in.

Bio-smog

So there it is – bio-smog in the office. Only we don’t know it’s there. An ever-present atmosphere of both life-giving and hazardous forces that we are immersed among every single day.

We could be victim to them at any second. Just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, touch the wrong thing or person, and BOOM – it’s flu, or norovirus, or an allergy attack, or whatever is doing the rounds.

OK, we all know the downside of getting sick.

Our bodies go through varying degrees of unpleasantness while they fight the infection – coughs, sneezes, cramp, vomiting – until we feel better. Our immune systems kick in with defences learnt as an infant, crawling around stuffing things into our mouths. A couple of days, and we’re better.

Or not.

Which is when we go to hospital, so our bodies can get help.

And one of the first treatments we get is the miracle of our modern age – a course of antibiotics. Amazing stuff, truly. Within hours we turn the corner. The bad bacteria in our bodies get clobbered, their attack is halted. Everything goes back to normal.

As if.

Not so miraculous

Because antibiotics don’t only kill the bad bacteria – they kill a lot of the good ones as well. Or hurt them, mutate them, change what they do, or prevent them from doing it properly. Collateral damage.

Which is why so many of us keep feeling sick after the antibiotics – it takes a while for our surviving bacteria to get back on their feet.

Oh yes.

Dropping an antibiotic capsule in among the 100 trillion bacteria that colonise our gut is exactly like lobbing a hydrogen bomb among the high-rise apartment blocks of one our biggest cities. Exactly why doctors never prescribe them unless they’re necessary.

Except of course, we “know” about antibiotics, we pressure them to. Gimme my miracle I want it now!

Result, antibiotics have become so overused they’ve developed resistance. Whole chunks from our repertoire of miracle drugs don’t work any more.

If only that was the worst of it.

You see, it’s not just medicine that overuses antibiotics. The big culprit is farming.

Overuse, big time

Shovelling antibiotics into food livestock enables more intensive methods with bigger profits – more animals in less space that’s not always clean. It bulks them up too – makes them fatter, faster, ready for market sooner. Even bigger profits.

The same with plant crops – more from less, quicker. The food production jackpot.

Thing is though, that traces of those antibiotics get through to us in everything we eat. Since child-birth and even in the womb, we’ve been exposed to background antibiotics our entire lives. Little hydrogen bombs one after another – boom, boom, boom!

Uh huh.

So no matter how carefully we’ve been nurtured through childhood, our immune systems are shot.

Where our bacteria would have acquired hereditary defences from our mothers and learned new ones from good, healthy exposure to dirt as dribbling babies – they’ve been killed off, stunted, or made unable to recognise threats when they happen.

Yeah, our immune systems are still working, sort of. But not as effectively as before this constant flood of antibiotics started washing over us.

Grandma never got dosed with 20 micrograms of streptomycin every day from the milk she drank. Or enrofloxacin from her boiled egg. Her immune system remained fully intact. No phantom allergies in her day – any illness was real and her body fought it off, naturally.

Without looking like a porker, either.

Bigger and bigger

Yeah, you’ve got it. Just like farm animals, we bulk up too.

In the last twenty years – exactly the time that farming with antibiotics has moved into high gear – we’ve ballooned bigger and bigger. Today, a quarter of our kids are grossly overweight – and two thirds of adults – an increasing cause of heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, cancers, depression and anxiety.

Bad?

You bet. A double-whammy.

“Antibiotics resistance is as big a risk as terrorism,” says Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England.

“Obesity is the new smoking,” says Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England.

Except what neither of them mention is the even BIGGER threat – that antibiotics have weakened and eroded our immune systems – and continue to do so.

Not good news when there’s 30 of you in the same office, sharing the same space, touching the same things and breathing the same air. Twenty years ago maybe, but not now.

The external antibiotic

Unless of course your office is regularly treated with a Hypersteriliser. A nightly or even weekly mist-up with ionised hydrogen peroxide to oxidise ALL viruses and bacteria in your work space. On surfaces, in nooks and crannies, throughout the air space.

Total room sterility when you come in next morning. Sort of like an “external antibiotic”, but with none of the health risk – hydrogen peroxide decomposes after use into oxygen and water, which evaporates. Safe and secure.

Better than living with bio-smog.