The amazing news hidden deep among all the wars, disasters, Ebola scares and nonsense of electing the World’s First Joke Prime Minister.
End of a world killer?
British drug giant Glaxo Smith Kline has applied for a licence for a new vaccine to defeat malaria, the first-ever defence against this world-killer that looks like being successful.
Four infection types exist to give us grief in our lives – bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Malaria is by far the worst parasite to invade our bodies and has always ranked high on our list of killer dread diseases.
For the children’s sake
Now for the first time, we might be able to beat it – and significantly the new vaccine is designed specifically to work with children – African children, who are currently dying at one a minute from this terrible affliction – many more times worse than Ebola will ever be.
Actual figures are staggering – 198 MILLION cases in 2013, with 584,000 deaths. And this is one of those where disinfecting and watchful hygiene doesn’t help much – though malaria can be transmitted through contaminated blood.
The most effective defence is mosquito nets – and a darned good insecticide to clobber the anopheles mosquito (only the female of the species) that transmits it.
In the 1940s, the wonder-chemical DDT used to be it (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) – a highly effective insecticide now banned across most of the world for the dangers it brings to the food chain and links to chronic illnesses.
Despite its high efficiency, DDT was found to be so poisonous in its side effects that over-use triggered the American watchdog Environmental Protection Agency in 1962. It killed mosquitoes, but it killed too many humans too.
The world is winning
Killer though it is, malaria is treatable if diagnosed and treated early. But with medical services stretched thin throughout the world’s tropical regions – as the current Ebola crisis demonstrates – treatment is not always possible.
The new vaccine, called RTS,S, is not infallible – but manages to reduce cases among toddlers by 36%. In parallel with this vaccine is an American alternative PfSPZ, intended for adults and still at the trial stage.
It may be too early to toast the success of either – though a celebratory glass may be appropriate if you’ve ever caught malaria and been lucky enough to be treated for it.
Think of England
In the days of Empire, gin and tonic was invented as a refreshing drink that masked the bitter taste of the anti-malarial quinine ingredient added to it.
On behalf of all the African children who now stand a fighting chance – cheers!
Good, healthy children – the last thing any parent thinks about is a problem with obesity.
Sure, our kids are everything in the world. Which is why we watch them like a hawk, especially in their formative years.
Bringing up little angels
Lots of fresh air and outdoors. Out and about, playing in the dirt, developing the immunities their bodies will need later. Scrubbing the dirt off in regular bath-times. Good, wholesome food and proper mealtimes. Sound, peaceful sleep and lots of it.
Everything we can think of to grow up strong and healthy. And at the first sign of anything wrong, off to the Doc in the very next second – nothing is too urgent or important for our little sweethearts.
Except that’s exactly where things can go pear-shaped.
We’re not doctors ourselves, so at the first sign of anything we panic. We need reassurance, demand action, and refuse to march out without medicine.
So the Doc writes a scrip, very often for antibiotics – because that’s what we know about and will get us out of her hair. Us parents can get quite bolshy sometimes, and no doctor needs the extra PT. Then it’s down to the chemist for amoxicillin or something. Anything, as long as it works – and never a thought about obesity.
Good bacteria, bad bacteria
Things is, a lot of the time antibiotics just aren’t necessary. We might stampede the Doc into giving us some, but unless the treatment is for something bacterial, antibiotics won’t do a dickie-bird.
Not a dickie-bird about whatever the infection is, of course. Because they’re sure doing something to those little insides, you can count on it.
You see, antibiotics do one thing – and that is, kill bacteria.
Bacteria bad, right? That’s why we pressure the Doc into prescribing something to fight them.
There’s only one problem.
We NEED bacteria to stay alive. And not all bacteria are bad. In fact, most of them are very definitely good. Because billions and billions of years ago, our bodies made a partnership with good bacteria to handle most of the grunt work of living, leaving us to get on and have a good time.
As a result, we’re not all human at all – we’re half alien. Of all the cells in our bodies, about 50% are actually bacteria. And down in our gut there are about 100 trillion of them of different types. And all with a purpose – among their many roles, digesting food, creating proteins and managing our immune systems.
Which makes taking antibiotics a bit like dropping a hydrogen bomb when they get to our gut. Millions and millions of them die – not just the bad ones causing us grief, but a lot of the good ones as well. A broad spectrum antibiotic like amoxycillin is not choosy about WHICH bacteria it kills – it just kills as many as possible.
Bacteria learn from each other, so a lot of the immunities we have are inherited from our mothers – her bacteria teaching ours what to do and how to protect themselves. And how to cope with new hazards like mud and dog poo when we go crawling round, exploring.
Bang, a lot of these bacteria are lost when the antibiotic hits. Some are very populous and reproduce very quickly. Others are rarer, and suffer major setbacks – perhaps the cause of diarrhoea or other side effects. Others are gone completely, never to return – whatever immunities they gave us don’t exist any more.
So how does this impact obesity?
Obesity control jammed ON
Well, among the many things that bacteria control are our hormones. And most important of these from an obesity viewpoint are ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin is the one that tells our brain that we are hungry, it’s time to eat, let’s have some food – the ON switch for our appetite. Leptin is the opposite, telling us we’ve had enough, time to stop eating – the OFF switch.
Take a hit of antibiotics and the two are thrown out of balance. The ghrelin appetite switch remains jammed full ON, and the leptin switch stops working altogether. Result, there’s nothing to stop us eating till we pop. Obesity, here we come.
Bad news for our kids.
There we are rushing in to the Doc, because they have a fever, earache, or any one of a whole slew of childhood infections. Down the hatch with the antibiotics, and they’re off on the slippery slope. Because as medical experts are starting to find out, children given antibiotics by the age of two are more likely to be obese by the time they’re five.
Follow that up with further treatments – from toddlers to teenagers to young adults – so that by the time they reach twenty, most of our kids have been exposed to antibiotics SEVENTEEN times.
Anti-obesity plans don’t work
That’s 17 times their ghrelin switch has been jammed ON again – and 17 times their leptin safety switch has been made unserviceably OFF. So they eat and eat, with no restriction, only stopping when over-stretched stomachs make them uncomfortable enough to stop. Which is why the recent schools test in the Midlands with healthier lunches and more exercise got absolutely nowhere.
Overeating CAUSED by antibiotics, the sure road to obesity.
Don’t believe it?
A key side effect of antibiotics is that they make things grow – the leptin switch broken in the OFF position, remember?
Which is why in food production, antibiotics are key to hitting the jackpot. Small doses given to cattle, pigs and poultry accelerate their growth – from egg to roasting chicken in six weeks, from new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus steak in just 12 months.
Super-big business for farmers around the world. And you’d better believe it. Today, antibiotics use in food production now tops 240,000 TONNES annually. To feed the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle, 1 billion sheep and 1 billion pigs that currently feed US.
Antibiotics with every meal
So it’s not just from medicines that our kids get antibiotics. They’re gobbling up residues in every meal they eat, small traces in their meat and even in their vegetables – exactly like farm animals being fattened up for market.
As you can see by looking at them!
Of course antibiotics as growth boosters in meat are not allowed. Except that modern factory farms are so crowded and unhygienic, antibiotics HAVE to be given or animals will die. Farmers MUST withdraw doses several weeks before market so that residues fall to zero. Because we might catch superbugs, killer bacteria that have learned how to resist antibiotics, for which there is no cure.
Good thinking, but doomed to failure. Because animals still have to eat – and the feedstuffs they get are all fertilised by their own manure, laced through with earlier doses of antibiotics, because they poo out 80% of the nutrients they eat.
Which means it’s not just our kids getting fat. It’s us too. Look around and you’ll realise that two-thirds of us adults are already overweight or into obesity.
Pretty much, as there is no escaping from antibiotics. If farmers were to stop using them, there wouldn’t be enough food for the world and billions of us would starve.
Ironic, no? World famine, for a condition that makes us to overeat.
Which is what the REAL problem is – overeating. Not junk food or sugary drinks – just gutsing ourselves on too much of them. On all that yummy high -energy food – if it were bad for us it would make us ill, wouldn’t it?
And there we are, wondering why we’re starting to bulge.
Two ways out of that. Fit a gastric band, or voluntarily make a conscious effort to eat less.
Hypersteriliser units are supplied to businesses and institutions across the UK, notably the haematology and other critical units at Salford Royal Hospital, Greater Manchester; Doncaster & Bassetlaw Hospital; South Warwickshire Hospital; Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital; and Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.
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If anyone seriously WANTS a sugar tax, it should be fat people.
Because obesity sucks, right?
Nobody in their right mind wants to look like that – to feel ugly, less than fit, a target for ridicule, always depressed and increasingly unhealthy.
Nobody wants to be fat
Despite all that, it’s a battle for them to help themselves.
They WANT the sweet tastes, the fill-you-up feeling, the constant indulgences. Their bodies crave them – it’s a growing addiction.
Which means, well-meaning though it is, taxing them is not going to do much. It’s misplaced effort.
Hike the price ten or twenty times, they’ll still want their fix. Addiction is addiction – and the cost of feeding it means nothing, just like the most dangerous and self-destructive drugs.
Yes certainly, cutting down on sugar intake should lessen their misery. And making sugar less freely available can help new youngsters from getting fat. Jamie Oliver is right.
Sugar is not the problem
But it’s not going to stop them, or make the problem go away.
Because the reason why their bodies have these cravings has not been satisfied.
Find ourselves starving in a wasteland and we’ll eat anything – grass, roots, insects, even dirt. But day-to-day, we don’t face that challenge, we can most of us eat what we want.
What we actually choose, will depend how hungry we are. Ravenous, and we go for a quick charge – exactly why fast-foods are so successful – instant go and lots of it, at your fingertips in a hurry.
Not so hungry, we get picky – it’s got to be this, it’s got to be that – gourmet posh-nosh that can cost a bomb.
It’s the body though, that decides what it wants. The body playing mind-games on the brain.
The magic of taste, the allure of smell, the sexy come-hither on the plate – all the tricks of the trade of a clever chef. The brain stands no chance, it’s a foregone decision – it knows how to satisfy it’s own yum-factor.
All anticipation and expectation, right? Which is what all the taxing is about.
And all over as soon as we swallow – down the hatch, gone, finito.
Down the hatch is where the real action starts. Down there in our gut, where digestion takes place – all taken care of by the bacteria that live there, over 100 trillion of them – the life force without which we’d die.
They might be just microbes, but these things are clever. Over 3.5 BILLION years, they’ve become experts at how to survive.
They’re not all the same either, but incredibly diverse. Thousands and thousands of different types, all balanced in a stable thriving community of specialist skills – processing nutrients, producing proteins and regulating our immune systems among many other vital functions.
It’s the balance that keeps us healthy and alive, that protects us from illnesses, that gives our bodies the athletic agility of the incredible miracle we all are. Properly balanced, we’re fit and able, positive and upbeat.
We eat right because the body tells us to – also in balance, everything in proportion. Gutsing out on sugar means that something is wrong – the balance is skewed. We don’t just get fat, we’re at risk of all kinds of illnesses too, on-going conditions that wear away our health.
Symptoms, not cause
So yeah, while forcibly reducing sugar intake is a good thing, it doesn’t restore the balance. Nor do other diet disciplines – or even fitting a gastric band. They’re treating symptoms, not cause. And experiments with sugar tax are not working anyway.
What’s wrong is our gut bacteria are out of balance. Some essential ones are missing – others are out of whack – not performing as they should. Altogether, vital numbers are down.
And it’s not sugar that’s doing this. A healthy body wouldn’t eat that much sugar anyway. It doesn’t need it, so the system doesn’t ask for it – no craving, no weight gain. Besides, sugar is food – and all that any bacteria know how to do is eat. So our gut bacteria make the choice – eat what we need, leave what we don’t – the extra goes out in our poo.
No, so it’s not sugar – something far more serious. Something specially designed to kill bacteria.
Antibiotics – miracle lifesavers of modern medicine.
Dropping an antibiotic capsule in amongst the teeming community of our gut bacteria is like exploding a hydrogen bomb. Sure the bad bacteria making us ill get their come-uppance. But so do billions and billions of innocent bystanders – vital good bacteria either killed or disabled, with some rarer types wiped out altogether.
Out of balance means out of control. Among other things, our gut bacteria no longer switch off when they’ve had enough to eat – they keep on and on. They extract more nutrients than they should too – squeeze more out of our food, then force it round our bodies. With nowhere else to go, we get fatter and fatter and fatter.
Yeah, sure – antibiotics are supposed to cure us. But farmers of all kinds have known for years that antibiotics boost growth fast – plants and animals grow bigger, quicker, when dosed with antibiotics.
Which is what’s happening to us.
Before sugar even gets to us, antibiotics are triggering the CAUSE of making us fat.
And not just in one-off’s either – one prescription and that’s your lot – though they are one hell of a jump start. Feed antibiotics to children under two, and by five they’ll be visibly overweight, with their systems accelerating to go even further.
Every time we take antibiotics, we attack our gut bacteria further. Lesser diversity, more out of balance – we’re not just triggering obesity, but all kinds of other life-threats as well.
Every day, another hit
Worse, every single one of us unconsciously takes antibiotics every day – not as medicine, but in our food. Laced with the stuff to boost growth, they’re in all our meat and vegetables – everything we buy in the supermarket.
Which means every mouthful we take is another hit to our gut bacteria – another swing to knock us further off balance. Worst of all, our systems never recover to where they were – with every downer, we’re a little bit less than we were before – fatter, less healthy, more at risk of serious illness.
Cutting down on sugar?
Good idea, yes – but shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Ask any cruise ship passenger, this stomach-churning nasty strikes in warm weather as well as cold. Blue sky holiday? Holiday blues, more like.
Right now it’s on the rampage again. Sixty children out of action at a New Forest school last week. Another 32 off yesterday.
90 out of the school’s 350 total – a whole quarter absent and the place is still open!
It might not be an epidemic, but it’s pretty damn close. Because – highly contagious and a hardy survivor – norovirus never lets go.
Contagious is right – 1,000 times more virulent than any flu virus. And if you’ve ever seen how fast coughs and sneezes spread through a bunch of junior school kids, you’ll know what a runaway wildfire flu can be.
Plus norovirus takes 24 hours to happen. So infected kids can mingle with the healthy ones without anybody knowing. The slightest touch is enough to transfer it. Playing tag with stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
The hands have it
Then there’s the fomites. The things children touch that others touch too. Desks, chairs, pencils, pens, door handles, computer keyboards, gym equipment, toys, and everything in the lunch hall.
Norovirus can survive on surfaces without a human host for a week, ten days, or more. Any child touching them catches the bug and perpetuates the spread. Touching other surfaces and other kids, keeping the infection going.
Which is where the costs start snowballing.
Most norovirus outbreaks focus on medical issues. But the money side is just as bad.
In a people-intensive place like a junior school, it’s not just children who go off sick, it’s teachers too. But they have to be paid for, even though they’re not there. So do the supply teachers who come in to substitute for them – assuming the school remains open.
If it gets really serious, closing the school is another cost. The whole staff have to be paid, even though they’re doing nothing.
Piling on the pounds
Then there’s containment. No school can keep the books balanced if it’s closed. So specialist crews have to go in and disinfect the place. Crews that cost money.
They need to be thorough. Most “deep clean” procedures have little or no effect. The virus hangs on in cracks and crevices – even in the air itself. And if the contact time with bleach or whatever the purifying agent being used is too short, the infection bounces back again.
In 2002, the Holland America cruise liner Amsterdam suffered repeat outbreaks on four consecutive cruises, despite rigorous cleaning. A whole cruise liner aborting its mission, four times in a row. 1,380 passengers at a time. 1,380 refunds, 1,380 grumpy complaints to friends who chose other cruise lines.
Plenty, plenty lost revenue.
The deep cleans didn’t work. So the only thing was to take the ship out of commission and disinfect thoroughly – a major income-earning unit off-line for more than a week. With expensive hand treatment right down to the fomites of bedding, TV remotes, bibles – and all the poker chips and currency in the casino.
Not good enough
The New Forest school could easily be the same. Germ-killing bleach is fine if it gets everywhere, but normal wipe-clean methods never do. The virus lives on, under, behind, or on top of things. In inaccessible places, clinging to the walls, the ceilings, the light fittings.
Which means JAM (Just Add Money) and the school remains closed. Because the job has to be done again. And again. Until it’s either fumigated properly, or so long passes that the virus dies out.
Meanwhile, the infected children are all at home. Not in isolation either, there’s other family. Mums running ragged, probably with other children to worry about too. And Dads, escaping to the office, but not immune either. All at risk, because who of any of them ever remembers to keep washing their hands?
So businesses in Southampton, Bournemouth – and all around south Hampshire where these Dads work – start having norovirus outbreaks as well. Key staff off sick and not producing. Work projects stalled, orders not being filled, revenue not coming in.
Suddenly, a price tag that could run into millions. And misery – financial and otherwise – for thousands of people along the South Coast.
All because little Jimmy, or Kieron, or Sally-Anne, or Marguerite did not wash their hands – nine times out of ten, the way norovirus starts in the first place – the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.
Can it all be avoided? The outbreak contained? All these costs controlled? Life return to normal?
It could be a long process – and a lot of pounds down the drain before anything happens.
To the rescue
Unless of course, Hypersterilisers are brought into play – not just for health’s sake, but to protect everybody’s bank balance.
These deceptively innocent-looking machines destroy ALL viruses and bacteria in a room in around forty minutes. Their super-fine spray of ionised hydrogen peroxide plasma is electrically charged to reach into every remote corner and crevice, grabbing and oxidising germs to oblivion as it does so.
It might take a while to do a whole school – overnight perhaps, running each machine from one room to the next. But once it’s done, the whole place is sterile – no germs of any kind – totally safe.
Of course, once the children come back, they bring their germs with them. Most of the time, OK – assuming they’ve recovered – but often carrying others. Flu, other tummy bugs, MRSA – all kinds of bugs that can’t be detected, because they’re too small to see.
And they’re there alright. Each of us trails a bio-cloud of germs with us wherever we go – and leaves traces behind, wherever we’ve been.
First, a rigorous drive to get everyone to wash their hands – always after the loo, always before food. Next, nightly treatment with a Hypersteriliser to clobber any germs.
Next morning, back to safe again. No more costs – and bank balances as healthy as the kids.