Tag Archives: dirt

How down and dirty could save your life

Dirty faced woman
Our immune systems might have the dirt on germs – but we still need to wash our hands all the time

No, not beauty treatment or anything like that.

Forget Dead Sea mud and all the pampering clinics. This is good eat-dirt-to-make-healthy-bodies thinking – otherwise known as the “hygiene hypothesis”.

Oh, and you’ve got to do it before you’re more than twelve months old. After that, your immune system is no longer working in turbo mode to remember all the germs it knows how to conquer.

Know your enemy

Actually, the body does keep on discovering these as you get older, but not at the same pace.

Kids who grow up on a farm for instance, are more resistant to allergies and infection. Even early exposure to animal faeces and cockroach droppings seems to be beneficial – in weird conflict with keeping clean and washing our hands all the time.

But there is reason in the madness.

Our immune systems learn how to recognise and fight life-threatening micro-organisms in later life. They even acquire memories of germs they’ve never encountered – hostile pathogens never experienced before that have never entered our bodies.

Segue fast forward to adulthood and the same principle applies.

Developing immunity

Because it seems around half of us have developed an immunity to flu so strong, we just never come down with it any more – no coughs, sneezes, headaches, fever. They just pass us by. Previous infections have built up our resistance, so that our bodies can tell flu viruses to get lost.

And yep, it seems to work against pandemic flu too – we’re able to withstand oncoming waves of bird flu, swine flu and maybe even SARS as well. Not from eating dirt, but from previous exposure to milder infections that teach our immune systems how to handle the real villains.

Kinda like the analogy with cowpox and smallpox.

For centuries, smallpox was a killer virus that caused misery for millions with pus-filled blisters all over the body. But in 1796, Edward Jenner, a doctor in Gloucestershire, discovered that previous exposure to cowpox – a familiar problem on farms – produced immunity to smallpox.

“Vacca” is the Latin word for cow – from which we get “vaccine,” a protection from viruses – and “vaccination”, the jab we get to protect us. Actually for cowpox it’s a series of tiny jabs dipped in vaccine solution – a mild reaction blister develops, but disappears in two weeks – and we are protected.

Washing hands is always vital

All of which does not mean that we should ignore daily hygiene, or that it’s safe to run around with dirty hands.

It was another doctor, Joseph Lister, who discovered that surgery patients were dying because infections were transferred from one case to another by surgeons who did not realise the significance of washing hands between treatments.

And yes, he’s the guy after whom Listerine is named, originally an antiseptic, but now a mouthwash.

We might have immunities, but there’s still plenty of germs out there we haven’t encountered yet – all too ready to do the dirty on us if we stop being careful. (Tweet this)

And the Lister story is significant because it’s about transferring germs, spreading them on contact – either directly, or by things we touch in common with other people – door handles, mobiles, keyboards, knives and forks – what the medics call “fomites”.

Hygiene to protect others

Our immunities aren’t all the same either. So while WE might be safe from a particular germ, the kid at the next desk in school – or the colleague alongside us at work – other people might not be.

How fair is it to give them our germs – infect them with a bug we’re immune to – because we’re too forgetful to wash our hands?

Yes, “down and dirty” teaches our bodies to be strong when we’re infants. It’s also how we need to fight germs when we’re older. All or nothing, brute force, get rid of them.Rediscover Hygiene logo

Because living in communities of others as we do – all of us different – there’s no one-size-fits-all protection we can share.

Except washing hands.

Life-saving habits

Except doing everything to keep germs away from any of us who are vulnerable. To stop any cross-contamination. To keep everything around us clean and germ-free for the same reason. Even to using a Hypersteriliser to sterilise the living space around us.

Dead and gone, germs can’t touch us.

So let’s give them their own dirty treatment straight back again.

Originally posted 2015-06-17 11:35:35.

Delete all germs, Y/N? Or send to cloud?

Woman at keyboard
Ew! Delete all germs! There’s more on your keyboard than there are in the loo!

OK, they got you.

You read a piece in the paper about germs on your desk and scared yourself to death.

Then you took a look at your computer keyboard and called your office cleaning service.

Yes, they do sanitising of IT equipment, including screens and keyboards. Oh, and don’t you want your phones done too? Staff are on the line all the time and need protection.

A big cleaning job

You look at them, at their workstations – in those space-maximising groups of four, clustered together. Lots of work to be done, everyone with double screens, always on the go.

Good on you, you’ve earned a coffee – and the specialist team is coming tomorrow. Delete all germs, yeah!

Wow, but they are impressive. Air blasters that squidge out dust and dirt – all those bits of biscuit that dropped down between the keys. And this virucidal liquid stuff that lifts the gunge of your keys so they look like new when you thought the letters were fading. Oh, and the wipes for screen, yeah!

Twenty minutes, all done.

You watch as the team goes round the rest of the office. Everyone’s raving at their shiny new-look keyboards. You nod to yourself.

It’s not over till it’s over

Then you notice something on the desk behind your screen. A dust bunny. No worries, the usual cleaning team will take care of that when they come in this evening.

Or not.

Difficult to get to, behind all those screens clustered together. Worried about unplugging something too. So their best is thrust with a feather duster, or a quick go-round with the vacuum cleaner hose.

Delete all germs? Well, only sort of.

Cough, cough, splutter.

Dust bunnies in the air – bits of biscuit from the blow-out sessions too.

So just how clean is your office really?

Sure it looks OK, but how safe is it from germs?

You sit there and think about what could be under the desk. Lurking in the cables snarled together where the CPUs are. No vacuuming there either – don’t want to disturb the connections.

Behind the scenes

And what about behind the photo copier? Or the great triple-whammy broadband server up against the pillar? Won’t the air-con circulate all those dust bunnies and biscuit bits? Plus the cough-sneezes from you and everybody else?

It’s not just your desk that’s full of germs – it’s the whole office. (Tweet this)

But if somebody was going to clean and disinfect that lot properly, they’d be wiping and scrubbing all day. And still the air-con would be circulating stuff – round and round in a great invisible cloud.

Aargh!

Surely there’s something that can handle taking the germs out without making it a major mission, or ponging the place up with chlorine bleach?

Fortunately, there is.

Safe from germs

It’s called a Hypersteriliser and it sterilises the whole place completely – no germs no nothing, safe.

You still need the cleaning team, because the machine doesn’t actually clean off dirt.

What it does do is mist the place up with ionised hydrogen peroxide – oxidising viruses and bacteria on contact like microscopic explosions, physically ripping their cells apart.

The stuff gets everywhere too, because the ionising charges the mist particles so they race away, trying to escape each other. Charged with energy, they push and shove – under, behind and deep into any cracks – no germ can escape them.

Forty minutes is all it needs – give or take an oz, depending on room size.

Delete all germs, yes! And way quicker than a whole team of cleaners could ever achieve. (Tweet this)

And all you do is wheel it into place, check it’s juiced up and ready to go, hit the button and get out of there – job done.

So, are you going to accept just the clean keyboard – or do want to hit the whole place?

Breathe deep and think. Your colleagues are depending on this too.

Like, if you don’t do anything, how many more sickies are you going to pull this year?

Originally posted 2015-05-14 15:42:33.

Yes, dirt can save lives

Baby smiler
Growing immune systems need to learn about germs too

Amazingly resilient, kids.

They get chickenpox, measles, mumps – and never get them again.

Or at least only rarely. Catch something once, they develop an immunity – which seems to protect them for the rest of their lives.

Not just illnesses either.

They might look weak and fragile, but kids have built-in resistance to all kinds of things, particularly allergies.

Brilliant survivors

Like it or not, it’s good for your kids to eat dirt.

Not that any of us believe it of course.

We’re so paranoid about germs and dirt and keeping clean, we wrap our kids up in cotton-wool and shut them away from anything bad.

Which could be the worst thing of all.

Overdo the sanitising gels, wipes, soaps, sprays, pasteurised milk, irradiated food and antibiotic everything, and we accelerate auto-immune disease.

Because we prevent the body from learning what is good and what is bad and developing defences for it.

Makes sense if you think about it.

Learning about germs

A baby explores everything with her mouth.

The most yucky stuff goes in there and we’re horrified at the possibilities.

But how often does something bad result – and how else can her immune system become attuned to the challenges around her if it doesn’t know what it’s up against?

So eating dirt is actually good, not bad.

Up to a point.

There is still a need for preventative hygiene. And the older kids get, the less likely they can get away with not washing hands, cleaning their teeth or all the other good habits that exist to keep them healthy.

Sure, kids who grow up with allergens and household bacteria wind up stronger than kids who don’t. But not when exposure is constant and excessive – like living in damp conditions surrounded by mildew and mould.

TB and asthma are not nice for anyone. And childhood afflictions tend to be life-long, or with recurring symptoms later in life.

Good dirt, bad dirt

Which means as a parent, you need to balance good dirt and bad dirt.

You can’t watch them every second of the time, but you can make certain whatever they get their hands on is not full of dog poo or overflow from the drains.

And you can insist on common sense as they get older, shifting them from exploratory habits to safer ones as their baby systems develop, teaching basic hygiene as you go.

Besides, when it comes to nosh, kids quickly get the picture anyway.

Here comes the aeroplane, full of yummy prune and butternut. Open the tunnel, all that good stuff going down inside, to make you strong and healthy.

More fun than clods of earth or mud pies.

Been there, done that, got the immunity.

Originally posted 2015-03-30 17:13:30.

We dish the dirt on hot water and elbow-grease

Anguished cleaner
Rub and scrub all you like – clean isn’t clean until you’ve got rid of the germs – otherwise what are you cleaning for?

It doesn’t work, does it? Clean, but covered in germs. Micro-dirt.

Polished spotless, but crawling with e. coli. Or campylobacter. Or staphylococcus aureus.

One of them nasties that makes you very ill.

Because you can’t see germs. Too tiny.

Get it right, or not at all

They’re there all right though. Unless the water is really hot.

Above 60⁰C at least. And immersed for at least 5 minutes.

Too hot for your hands. Or your patience.

Mindlessly scrubbing – and getting nowhere.

Oh sure, the dirt goes. But not the germs.

Though soap will get rid of 99% of them, if you’re thorough enough.

As long as you actually use it. Not just a rinse.

Or unless you use bleach.

And for an effective contact time. No quick dab and wipe-off.

10 minutes or more to be sure.

At a good concentration too. Not diluted to nothing because you can’t stand the smell.

At least 10 : 1 because otherwise the fumes are toxic.

And then of course, you’ve got to rinse it off afterwards. Bleach attacks plastics and sensitive surfaces.

Like your hands – and the lining of your nose.

So yes, visible dirt gone – and around 99.9% of the germs. Clean, sort of.

Not good enough

OK round the house, maybe. But not if you’re meticulous.

Or looking after sick people – or trying to stop them getting sick in the first place.

And how about the thing you’re using to scrub with? The sponge or scouring cloth?

Check that for germs too – because chances are, it’s full of them. The worst ever.

Not to mention the sink you might be scrubbing in.

Regularly cleaned, is it? Regularly disinfected?

Bet anything you like, it’s dirtier than your toilet. And how much food prep do you do in there everyday?

OK, so how about steam clean? If the water’s not hot enough, blitz it with heat.

Uh huh. For at least 30 minutes at 121oC.

That’s CONTINUOUS, right? Not hosing around and momentary exposure.

Plus there’s how you’re going to apply elbow grease while you do all that.

Scalding hot and not able to touch anything.

Oh, and making sure you do all the cracks and crevices too. All the hard to reach places.

A schlep, isn’t it?

With a pretty good chance of not doing the job completely.

Dirt gone, yes. But not the germs.

Stop messing about

Had enough?

Time to switch to hydrogen peroxide. Ionised into a mist so it reaches everywhere.

Electrostatically charged, so it actively grabs at germs and holds them till dead.

Two minutes exposure tops, but usually less than that. Around 40 minutes to cover a whole room.

All surfaces, all air space, all nooks and crannies – everything.

Then you’re done, no scrub or rub.

Dirt gone and germs too – 99.9999% destroyed. Down to 1 in a million.

Stops you messing around with hot water – and elbow-grease.

No contest.

Picture Copyright: BDS / 123RF Stock Photo

Should daily cleaning go further? And how far keeps you safe?

Hazmat girl
Yes, you CAN get better protection than from just mop and bucket

Yeah, yeah, we do daily cleaning to get rid of the dirt. The place would be a mess otherwise – a breeding ground for germs.

Which uncovers the real reason for all the rubbing and scrubbing. We’re doing it for our health.

But most times just LOOKING clean is not enough. We need to know we’re safe.

Rub and scrub needs more

Which means somehow mop and sponge need more oomph – without making the place stink of bleach. Finding a way of getting into all the nooks and crannies. Because even scrubbing with a toothbrush will not reach everywhere. Those germs are microscopic – they look at us and laugh.

OK, so first germ-killing requirement – clean everything as usual, THEN disinfect. And whatever we’re using has to reach everywhere.

Especially underneath things, on top of them, down the back, and all the way behind. Places that don’t usually get cleaned.  Too difficult to reach by hand. Unused or forgotten corners. Out of sight, out of mind.

And how about the space we move around in – the air?

Most germs are tiny, less than 3 microns across. At that size, bacteria, viruses and fungal spores can ride the air – lighter than smoke. They’re up there, so almost weightless they may never come down. Waiting to settle on your skin, on the food you’re about to nosh – or for you to breathe in.

Impossible by hand

Uh huh. If your cleaning job has to get rid of germs, it has to do the air too.  That’s around 80% of the space in an average room. Never usually gets a look at, does it?

No chance ordinary 9-to-5 cleaning can hack it. And there’s even less chance if it’s done by hand.

Better by smart machine. Clean the place as usual to get rid of visible dirt. Then press one button and Bob’s your uncle.

Fortunately there are such jobbies – all of them designed to disinfect the air as well as surfaces.

Ultraviolet generators kill germs by exposure to UV light. Wheel the unit in, make sure everybody’s out, shut the doors and windows, press the button.  The thing emits UV rays in all directions for about 5 minutes, killing 99.99% of bacteria and viruses – a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 4.

The problem is though, that only germs in direct line of sight from the machine are destroyed. Anything behind or under something gets missed. Either the machine gets repositioned for another go, or that “shadow” area goes unprocessed.

Other machines fog the room out with airborne disinfectant – usually a spray of hydrogen peroxide. This kills bacteria and viruses by oxidising – shoving oxygen atoms at them, ripping apart their cell structure. Very effective, if done right.

Exactly how they disperse the fog – and how effective they are at nailing the germs, is critical.

Call in the air force

Hydrogen peroxide vapour for instance, needs a strong concentration to be effective – 32% or more. This makes it a hazardous substance to work with, harmful to body tissue.

Its droplets are also heavier, more full of moisture and less able to ride the air. Dispersal is patchy and a drying process is necessary afterwards – a bit iffy with electrical cables and corrosive with some materials.

What’s needed is a low concentration of low temperature dry mist. Eco-friendly stuff that spreads evenly everywhere. No moisture. No damage to metal or plastics. No danger to cables and connections. Only mildly irritant to eyes and throat – but then folks should be out of there anyway.

The difference comes in IONISING the hydrogen peroxide.

Remember how boiling changes the state of water into steam? So ionising changes the state of ultra-fine hydrogen peroxide vapour into a plasma.

Super-gas, gas, gas

What’s a plasma? A kind of super-gas in which all the particles are charged. And because they all carry the same charge, they actively repel each other, jostling strongly, thrusting to get away.

This forces them out, driving in all directions. All through the air. Hard up against walls, floors and ceilings. Deep into cracks and crevices, wherever they can push to escape each other.

Bad news for viruses and bacteria because they are charged too. But with opposite polarity – so the rapidly dispersing hydrogen peroxide particles grab at them like a magnet.

Clutched in a vice-grip, unable to escape, they’re dead within seconds.

They never have a chance anyway. Ionising the hydrogen peroxide releases other antimicrobials as well – boosting the potency of the plasma. Hydroxyl radicals, oxygen species, nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet. No way any germs are coming back from that.

OK, so how’s it done?

The machine we like is a nifty thing called a Hypersteriliser. Wheel it in, hit the button, give it 40 minutes for the stuff to disperse and activate. Easy-peasy.

A million times safer

Vent the room as a precaution afterwards, though there should be no residues. The action of oxidising germs turns the hydrogen peroxide back to harmless oxygen and water – which immediately evaporates. A microscopic layer of colloidal silver remains on all surfaces – a protective antimicrobial barrier that lasts up to a week.

Result? All germs are dead down to just 1 in a million – 99.9999% destroyed, to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6. Reckon you can say you’re safe.

Certainly way safer than mop and bucket, which probably gets rid of only 90% – around 1 in 100,000. Not good if that 100,00 includes this year’s flu virus – or a stomach-twisting dose of norovirus.

So yes, you can take daily cleaning routines a lot further – just by pressing a button.

No need for the hazmat suit. You’re up to a million times safer.

Picture Copyright: stockasso / 123RF Stock Photo

Good, healthy dirt? Never, ever, with our lifestyles

Muddy Girl
Good, healthy dirt – try it and see how ill it can make you

Some people reckon we need dirt to be healthy. To be exposed to it, particularly when we’re kids – so it activates our immune systems, builds up our defences against infections in later life.

Hygiene hypothesis

The hygiene hypothesis, it’s called – the notion that being obsessed with cleanliness is the trigger cause for allergies like hay fever, eczema and asthma.

Uh huh. Here’s a reality check, in case you were wondering – especially if you’re among the gung-ho keep-fit brigade.

We spend something like 90% of our time INDOORS.

So if you’re thinking good old-fashioned mud and grass and dew water, you’re already on short rations. Outdoors is so last Century.

Unclean within

Now Google “time spent indoors” and see how many hits you get for indoor air pollution, sick building syndrome, exposure to contaminants and all that how’s-yer-father?

Never normally think about it, huh?

Doesn’t even occur to us.

Stack the dishwasher, hoover the floors once a week, the odd bit of dusting – what’s the problem?

Yeah?

So where do we come with our usual colds, flu, tummy bugs and bits of us that go septic from mishaps doing stuff around the place?

And if we’re so healthy, how come we’re screaming up to the Doc every five minutes for yet another scrip load of antibiotics?

Healthy dirt? With the way most of our bodies are these days, one mouthful would put us in intensive care without even thinking about it. Six days on drips, digestive system up the pole, shaky and nauseous for weeks afterwards.

Norovirus and other friends

Exactly like a bad case of norovirus.

But we don’t need to eat dirt to catch that. Just eat something with our fingers without washing our hands – burger, fish and chips, kebabs, whatever. Well, our fingers LOOK clean, don’t they? How are we supposed to know there might be germs on the countertop, or desk, or telephone keypad, or wherever?

It’s a fact of life though, that there are. Everything everywhere, even our own bodies – is teeming with billions and billions of bacteria, inside and out. Our own gut is home to over 100 trillion of them – vital to helping us digest, and even keep our immune systems going.

And remember that Google search? The whole air around us is full of them as well. With the other usual suspects in any enclosed space – germs, chemicals, dead skin molecules, dust, all kinds of stuff. On our skin, breathed in, swallowed down to our innards.

Protected pathogens

Our own stuff and everybody else’s too – nicely cross-contaminated and hemmed in around us. Protected by the double glazing and insulation we need for ourselves. Kept alive by the central heating and our own unbelievably sloppy hygiene, it’s a wonder we’re not running to the Doc every day.

Healthy dirt? Do us a favour! We’ve got all the germs we could want – literally at our finger tips.

Which means slightly more than just hoovering if we’re going to survive, right?

Our daily threat

Because every one of us today faces an increasingly deadly challenge to our health and we can’t afford to take chances any more. Our bodies are continuously under threat and we don’t even know it – every bit as lethal as smoking 60 a day and not giving a damn.

Twenty years ago even, and we stood a better chance. Our bodies were stronger, we were more resilient – and yes, we used to spend more time in the Great Outdoors. Before the couch potato existence of computer games, box-set binging and door-to-door pizza delivery.

Look at us now. Two thirds of us overweight or clinically obese. A third of our kids visibly overweight too. Ten ton porkers, all of us – what the hell’s happening?

Exposure to antibiotics is what. Our regular runs to the Doc, yes – but also daily in our food.

Because you see, twenty years ago is around the time that antibiotics took off Big Time as animal growth promoters on the farm.

Fat, fatter, fattest

Dose ’em up with every meal and cows get bigger in quarter of the time, and chickens, and pigs, and fish and everything – including vegetables and fruit and grain crops. El Dorado every day, better than winning the lottery.

Yeah, so cows get fat – but so do we. Ingesting the same growth promoting antibiotics drip, drip from everything we eat – laced through either directly from feed, or from richly nutrient and antibiotic laden manure used to fertilise everything and grow other feedstuffs.

Thing is though, that antibiotics don’t just make you fat. They work by killing bacteria, it’s what they’re designed to do. And inside your gut they kill good bacteria too – plus damage a few billion or so more that might be vitally needed for immune system work or simple house-keeping like regulating hunger.

We’re fat because antibiotics damaged our hunger control OFF switch – made us resistant to the leptin our own gut bacteria produces to tell us that we’ve eaten enough – just like the cows and pigs and sheep – dosed with 65,000 – 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics worldwide every year.

Itching, gasping, swelling up

There’s other damage too. Immune systems going nuts about conditions that aren’t there – glitched so they read phantom challenges, firing up the troops to fight infections that don’t exist. Otherwise known as allergies – asthma, rhinitis, food intolerance, dermatitis, eczema, hay fever, dust, mould, nuts, coeliac disease. How many were so widespread, twenty years ago?

OK, so our systems are weakened, we’re more at risk to dirt of any kind. Plus there’s all the downside that our being overweight epidemic brings – the slow road to an even unhealthier lifestyle.

  • The number of people with diabetes in the UK has tipped the 4 million mark.
  • Deaths from cancer in the UK in 2012 totalled 161,823.
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death both in the UK and worldwide – responsible for more than 73,000 deaths in the UK each year.

Yeah, the writing’s on the wall people. Hike up our hygiene levels seriously or we might not be around much longer. If there is such a thing as healthy dirt, we’re way too far gone to take advantage of it.

Scrub up, or else

Which means: wash our hands every opportunity we get. And keep washing. They might be clean momentarily – and then we go and touch something which isn’t.

Which takes us to the next step: sterilise the place so the germs are gone.

They can’t touch us if they’re not there. And we can take them out just by touching a button. Next second, our living space is misted up with dry all-penetrating hydrogen peroxide. Germs are oxidising to nothing on contact – in the air, on every surface, in ever nook and cranny.

Whew! Safe at last.

Now to get back outside and work some weight off.

Run, walk, cycle, swim – who needs TV?

Picture Copyright: diogoppr / 123RF Stock Photo

Revealed: more dirt on the NHS crisis

Payoff
Throw money at the NHS all we like, the dirt will still be there

Over-crowding, check. Long waiting times, check. Not enough beds, check. Not enough doctors, check. Most of the dirty work has been done already.

Not by medics. By Westminster. Put a bunch of politicos together and they’ll screw up anything.

Disorganised chaos

Which is how come we have GPs only working 9 to 5 and not weekends – some damn fool renegotiated their contracts.

The same bunch of idiots also shut all the care homes – so the old folks had no place to go.

Oh yeah, and because they know more about medicine than anyone else in the universe, they instituted targets and 5 minute consultation slots, so most diagnoses are only thumb-suck and people go home worse than they started.

And twenty-four hour drinking – double and triple injuries, accidents and liver-related issues.

Oh, and of course, mindless immigration.

Welcome to our country, we have no facilities to support you, so you can live in a paper bag. What do you mean, your whole family is sick?

Nice one, hey? But they’re who we voted for and that’s the service we pay taxes on. We’ve lucked it on ourselves.

Our own fault

Actually, we really have. Because aside from these Westminster-driven overcrowding and logistical shortfalls, most NHS issues are driven by two things – dirt and antibiotics damage.

The dirt is all of us, because our personal  hygiene is so appalling. That’s the only word for it. The only reason we’re not permanently sick is the compensating level of sanitation organised around us. Safe water to drink, effective sewage, clean streets, regular rubbish removal. Take them away and we’d all be cholera cases.

Because pretty well most of us are dirty all the time – particularly our hands, which touch everything – the major source of infection transfer. Don’t believe it? The view in the mirror is not nice.

Take out accidents, because they can happen to anyone – and we’re left with a high proportion of people suffering ailments and illnesses brought on by their own lack of hygiene. In workplaces alone less than half of us have accidents, so the rest comes down to dirt.

Dirt, unclean hands and bodies, unchecked infection, inevitable illness.

If we washed our hands regularly – certainly before food and after the loo every time, we’d take more than 50% of cases away from GPs – more than 50% of cases away from A&E.

Amazing, huh? Half the NHS budget in an instant. Soap and water beats billions of pounds of salaries and investment.

And for the real dirt

Which leaves antibiotics damage.

Not so easy, this one.

We think of antibiotics as amazing rescue medicines – and yes they are, in an emergency.

Trouble is, they work by killing bacteria – which is fine as long as they only kill the “bad guy” bacteria making us ill. Unfortunately, they kill a lot wider than that – which destroys or damages a lot of the vitally necessary “good guy” bacteria we each of us have living in our own gut – to handle digestion, manage our immune systems, and a thousand other essential functions.

And the bad news is, we’re exposed to antibiotics all the time – not from medicine, but from food. They’re the farmer’s miracle growth promoter – shovelled into feedstuffs for every meal, accelerating development of livestock and plant crops four and five times bigger and faster.

We eat plants and animals, we swallow the antibiotics too – so we get bigger, faster as well. Which is why two thirds of us are now overweight or obese – and a third of our children too – at a cost to the NHS of £73 billion a year.  Ripe candidates for type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Plus all the other glitches to our immune systems. Like allergies we never used to have – asthma, rhinitis, food intolerance, dermatitis, eczema, hay fever, dust, mould, nuts, coeliac disease – the list is endless.

And all the while, our immune systems become less and less resilient, more prone to the slightest infection. More at risk from the billions and billions of viruses and bacteria that surround us every second of every day. Microscopic organisms, invisible but deadly,  nano-dirt in the air and on every surface around us.

Plenty more cases to send to A&E. Long-term illnesses with slow debilitation. At the rate we’re going, ALL of us could wind up in hospital – and the NHS would sink without trace.

How we’ll survive

OK, so we can wash our hands, that’s Defence One.

Defence Two is to sterilise our surroundings, keeping them safe as our resistance diminishes. Not the great outdoors of course, that’s impossible. But we can protect our enclosed living spaces, homes, schools, workplaces, hotels, restaurants, even planes and trains and ships.

All it takes is a regular mist-up of safe and eco-friendly ionised hydrogen peroxide. A dry spray that reaches deep into cracks and crevices, behind and under objects, hard up against walls and ceilings, and of course across every inch of flat surface. Forty minutes and all viruses and bacteria are destroyed. No germs, anywhere.

Waiting for Westminster – again

Now it’s up to the politicos to get antibiotics out of our food chain – to get them under control with proper protective legislation, to stop the health-sapping drift to obesity that all of us have, and will continue to have, until the drugs are out of our diet.

And that’s really the dirt. Because so many of us are already sick or sickening needlessly from Westminster’s negligence. Take away the health threat and the NHS stands a fighting chance of being the service it ought to be.

Oh yeah, as long as we don’t forget to wash our hands all the time as well – the other main cause of illnesses everywhere. It’s a personal responsibility none of us can step away from.

Picture Copyright: nito500 / 123RF Stock Photo

The antibiotic price-tag – wash your hands, or land up in hospital

Rush to AandE
Better believe it, unwashed hands can kill you

Old wives’ tale. Rubbish. A little dirt never hurt anyone.

Your parents probably think that. And certainly their parents did.

Life was different back then. No mobiles. Only two stations on the telly. Central heating only for the rich. No 4x4s to take you to school.

Not like the old days

Yeah – and your parents’ parents’ parents had no hot water, no bathroom, only an outside loo. You did your business on the long drop in the freezing cold.

Washing your hands was a mission back then. Put the kettle on, fill the basin – just to wash your hands? Wipe them off with a damp cloth, stop wasting gas. Nobody ever got ill from it.

Yeah, right. They just died a lot earlier.

But you’ve got to admit, they were pretty hardy.

Their metabolisms were different is why. But not like they were Martians or we are aliens. Their bodies were exposed to wider environments – more outdoors, hands on, getting down and dirty. They grew up with it, their bacteria growing accustomed to it, it was the norm.

Are we aliens?

Wait a minute. Their BACTERIA?

Sure, sure. In those days they never knew it, but all human bodies are full of bacteria, whole colonies growing on our skin, in our mouths – and most especially, in our gut. More than 100 trillion of them, outnumbering our own human cells 10 to 1. A human microbiota that is more microbial than human – perhaps we ARE aliens after all.

OK, so these bacteria don’t just sit there. The body outsources all kinds of functions to them – digesting food and breaking out its nutrients, powering our immune systems, providing the muscle for tissue repair.

Yeah, there’s bad guys in there too – harmful pathogens that could bring us down. Small in numbers though, and smart enough to keep quiet. One false move and the good guys will either fight them or eat them.

Note that word smart.

Adapt and survive

Exactly what bacteria are. Because these remarkable creations are able to adapt and change to new conditions faster than anything else on the planet. Twenty minutes can breed a whole new generation – with new strengths, new skills, generating advanced enzymes to meet the new challenges.

Dirt in the system? They grew up with it, recognised it, know how to deal with it. Food not properly washed or cooked? No problem – they came from a long line of heroes with cast-iron stomachs.

Yeah, they knew upsets, what gut problems were really like. Where do you think names like Montezuma’s Revenge, traveller’s dysentery, Delhi belly, or back door sprint came from? They just manned up and ignored it, the stuff of Empire-building. “No guts, no glory” was how they lived.

Our own stomachs are more sensitive – not just from different lifestyles, the food we eat is no longer the same. Take norovirus – until 1968, it didn’t exist. Named after an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis at a school in Norwalk, Ohio,  it’s now every cruise ship operator’s nightmare.

The double-edged sword

Didn’t they eat the same food back then, same as 100 years earlier? Wasn’t beef, beef – and pork, pork? We’re not SO different.

Yeah, but what about antibiotics? Our food is NOT the same.

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but it took till 1942 to develop it, the first patient being treated for streptococcal septicaemia. By 1950, antibiotics were motoring big time – not in medicine, but in agriculture. To bulk up animals for market – beef, lamb, pork, chicken – all the popular meat types.

Today, half the antibiotics in use world-wide are in food production – 63,151 tons in 2010, to rise by 67% in 2030.

Half a century of industrial-scale usage means that traces of antibiotics are now in all of us – directly from the food we eat, and from the recycled waste. Even vegetarians will find them in their systems.

Use and abuse

It gets worse. Because antibiotics have been overused in medicine too. The miracle cure-all, patients clamour for it for everything from minor ailments up. By the time they’re 20, the average teenager might have been prescribed with antibiotics at least 10 times.

And have you any idea what antibiotics do to the human system?

Sure, they clobber harmful bugs – if they haven’t already become resistant (we’re coming to that).

And how do they do this?

By killing bacteria.

Er… But that means us, doesn’t it? Aren’t we 90% bacteria?

Boomitsdabomb!

Yes we are. So you can imagine the effect of antibiotics in the gut with over 100 trillion bacteria all round – like a thermo-nuclear bomb.

OK, so they take out the bad guys – clobber them to nothing. But a lot of innocent bacteria get hit too. Dead or impaired, no longer able to fulfil their vital roles. Collateral damage.

Want proof?

Ever been on antibiotics and you’ve had side effects?

Stomach cramps? Vomiting? Diarrhoea? Hello, clostridium difficile.

And that’s just for starters.

Oh sure, the immediate side effects are not too bad – the medics’ perspective of course, probably not yours.

But every treatment tears into your bacteria community a little more. The bounce-back is a little less each time. A little less, a little less – you and your children and your children’s children. Fifty years of antibiotic onslaught and our microbiota are not anywhere near the same.

All change

The balance has shifted – all of a sardine we face uphill we’ve never faced before, even a generation ago. Our bacteria is different, different breeds with different behaviour, our immune systems are different, our bodies are different.

Some blame it on diet, on lifestyle, on health and fitness levels – but messing with our bacterial balance is probably more the root cause than any other.

Where does our body balance start? As we’re starting to discover, in our gut. And we’re more sensitive than we were. After fifty years of bombardment, absolutely on a hair trigger.

Why suddenly obesity – a major chunk of the population overweight? Where from Type 2 diabetes, like it’s becoming an epidemic? We’ve messed around with our bacteria – and now we’re paying the price.

But bacteria adapt remember? They change to meet all challenges. Which is why they’re becoming resistant, mutating to cope with this continual onslaught.

Clostridium difficile? Staphylococcus aureus? They’re both impervious to antibiotics without getting clever – and you can bet they’ll find a way to get round being clever too, before too long.

Back to basics – soap and water

All of which comes back to washing your hands, believe it or not.

We’re not the same as we were – our systems are different, our defences are different and our resilience is different. We can’t take chances with random bacteria like our grandparents used to – see how quickly norovirus or something strikes as soon as our hygiene gets forgetful.

And what? If you get sick, you want to take antibiotics for it?

Whoops.

Already the docs are aware so many antibiotics don’t work. And the underlying damage has been done too. So if you do get ill, there ain’t no medicine for it, you’ve just got to take your chances.

Which means don’t get ill in the first place. None of us can afford to.

But there’s still one thing we can do – and it works.

Wash your hands.