Which makes you marvel at how amazing our professional medics are.
Doctors, nurses and all kinds of support people work round the clock to make us well. Long hours are the norm, lack of sleep, living on coffee. If the rest of us tried to work like that, we’d be living in chaos.
But medics are made of tougher stuff. Always ready to help – never ready to quit.
Look at that amazing organisation Médecins Sans Frontières. All volunteers, all resolute to give of their best. Up against killers like Ebola, nobody shows more concern or commitment.
Human bodies might be weakening, but never has human spirit and care for each other ever been so strong.
We ought to have more respect for these doctors. And we do when we remember.
But we backslide, because that is human nature.
As fast as doctors achieve a win, we’re seem equally determined to lose – careless of any dangers, sloppy in our hygiene, derelict in our regard for ourselves.
No wonder we’re not winning.
In our daily lives we let billions of germs surround us without a thought – viruses and bacteria intent on us as prey – natural born killers.
We know the risks – and yet we still take chances.
We prepare food in sometimes shocking surroundings. We forget or avoid washing our hands. We eat dodgy stuff, rush out in all weathers – and then wonder why we suddenly come down with something.
Kind of an insult to all those medics, don’t you think? We treat our body with contempt and then expect them to fix it. Never a thought about avoiding trouble in the first place.
“It can’t happen to me,” we think – without realising the game has already changed.
Yes, Ebola’s bad – and there’s no cure yet.
But through our own carelessness and dependence on miracles like antibiotics, there’s suddenly no cure for a lot of things.
While we weren’t looking, a whole slew of viruses and bacteria have found ways to resist the medicines we throw at them. MRSA alone has developed into 270,000 strains.
And look at the price of our carelessness.
We go into hospital for a routine operation – say a hernia, because we big deal lifted something without help. A tiny routine tummy cut, keyhole surgery, no problem.
The doctors take care, the nurses take care, the recovery team take care. And then we don’t wash our own hands, going to the loo. All set to be discharged – bang, MRSA.
Do we have a death wish or what?
Higher Hygiene Levels
It’s time to up our game. To hike hygiene habits up a level that evens the odds.
We’re still going to be careless. We’re still going to forget washing our hands. But we CAN do something to keep ourselves more safe.
Sterilise our surroundings.
If there aren’t any germs around, we can’t get sick.
So you watch.
As more and more of us realise the threat, we’re going to see new ways of winning.
Like misting up the place with hydrogen peroxide every day – oxidising viruses and bacteria to nothing before they even get near.
Forget all you ever thought about antibiotics being medicine. Here’s a crunch issue bigger than any we’ve ever faced.
Bigger than global warming, bigger than thermo-nuclear war, maybe even bigger than a massive asteroid strike.
Already impossible to stop
It’s a crunch we face now, with repercussions going on for the next 30 or 40 years. All caused by antibiotics – or more accurately, our own shocking misuse of them.
Because, no, no, no, not medicine. Around 80% or more of world production goes into agriculture. Shovelled into plants and animals in industrial quantities – as the most phenomenal quick-acting GROWTH BOOSTERS of all time.
And we mean phenomenal. Bigger, better, faster – a money-making miracle too.
50 years ago, when the growth boosting side-effects of antibiotics were first discovered, the world’s population was 2½ billion. And every inch of farming land was flat-out, producing food to feed them. Even then, it wasn’t enough. There were shortages, with millions going hungry.
Today, our world population has swelled to a whopping 7½ billion. But the world hasn’t got any bigger. The planet is still the same size as it was 50 years ago. THREE times the people feeding off exactly the SAME land space.
Because the miracle difference is antibiotics, particularly in the last 20 years.
Growth boosting by numbers
Amazingly, just by boosting animal and plant growth worldwide, the same land can now support a population that’s THREE times bigger.
But it’s not going to stop is it?
By 2050, world population will be bursting at the seams with a massive 9.7 billion of us – rising to 11.2 billion by 2100. Numbers in Africa alone are expected to double – reaching 4.2 billion by the end of the century. That’s the same as the entire world population in 1977, barely 40 years ago.
Which means don’t expect the use of antibiotics in agriculture to slow down any time soon. With ANOTHER 3.7 billion of us to feed by the end of the century, factories are going to be blasting round the clock to keep pace.
It’s going to be with all the regular antibiotics our doctors know and love too. Trimethoprim, oxytetracycline, ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, cefotaxime, doxycycline, sulfamethoxazole, erythromycin, clarithromycin and ofloxacin are all regularly used by the JCB-load.
And not just the regulars, it’s the emergency ones too. Even colistin – regarded by medics as the ultimate medicine of last resort – was being pumped into pigs at 11,942 tonnes per annum at the end of last year.
There’s only one problem.
With that kind of consumption, currently around 240,000 tonnes a year, the bacteria they’re being used against have had ample opportunity to develop resistance. Already, so many have developed immunity to antibiotics, that doctors are now looking at an Armageddon where ALL of them stop working.
And here’s the crunch. Well, Crunch 1, at any rate.
Thanks to this antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the world-wide move to limit antibiotics in agriculture is gathering ground – a tadpole going up against a whale.
Because it’s not going to happen is it?
Pull the plug on antibiotics in agriculture and suddenly there’s not enough food. Enough for only 2½ billion, not the 7½ billion we are today. Which means 5 billion people are going to go hungry. TWO THIRDS of the world population.
Famine on a scale never seen before. And what government, anywhere, is going to want that on their hands?
Like it or not, antibiotics are a train we cannot get off. Which means thanks for jumping up and down, Doc, we’re going to carry on as is.
The “bigger” problem
Which brings us to Crunch 2.
Only this time, Doc, you’re not jumping up and down enough. Not nearly enough.
Because right now, thanks to antibiotics, we’re also staring at the biggest medical crisis of all time.
Two thirds of adults are already at the start of this slippery slope. So are one third of children. And it all comes back to why antibiotics are used in agriculture – they make living things fatter.
Since we’re all chowing down food that contains the most phenomenal quick-acting GROWTH BOOSTERS of all time, we’re getting fat too.
All triggered by antibiotics. Which all of us – unknowingly – are already on. A low background dose in every food we eat – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit. Milk too. Even the water we drink.
Think again. Surprisingly, farm animals only absorb around 20% of the nutrients they eat. The rest is excreted, to become the manure that fertilises plant crops and enriches the soil. Rain soaks it deep into the earth, leaching through into our rivers.
So we’re getting the antibiotics alright. In sub-therapeutic doses with every meal, just like the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion each of sheep and pigs that currently feed us.
And if antibiotics can boost metabolisms from an egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks – or from new-born calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years – what are they doing to us?
Yeah, maybe we’re fat like the gurus tell us, because we lounge around playing computer games all day, glugging Coke and pigging out on pizza. And sure, that kind of couch potato lifestyle has got to have an influence.
But ask yourself, how come so MANY of us have got so large in the last 20 years? The same time period that antibiotics in food production have ramped up Big Time.
Those phenomenal growth boosters are working on us too, through the food we eat – and we’re paying the price.
Which means, face it – we’re going to get fatter and fatter. And lumps of lard, we’ll all fall victims to too much nutrient intake – making ourselves candidates for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and worse.
It doesn’t happen to the animals, their lives are too short. Which is why there’s no scandal or outcry, the issue is invisible.
But us humans have decades ahead of us. Plenty of time for the slow, debilitating effects of obesity to take hold, for the complications to set in, ready to drag us down to an unpleasant and premature death.
If in doubt, panic
Crunch time, world wide. In an epidemic that has crept up on us with such stealth, our watchdog heavies have yet to respond to beyond the odd rumblings about sugar tax and collectively throwing their hands up.
But yes, it’s happening – and two thirds of us are already on the slippery slope.
It will keep happening too, even if antibiotics are removed altogether from medical use, because they don’t work. Our daily dose will come through in our food and drink, continuing to overstimulate our absorption processes.
We won’t even know it’s happening, till we tip the scales further than we ever used to – and waistbands somehow expand larger than we ever dreaded.
Even going vegetarian won’t avoid antibiotics exposure, because the damage will already have been done. Jump-started by antibiotics fed to us for childhood ailments – fat by the time we’re five, with an even fatter future on the way.
So there we have it. Crunch, crunch. Famine or obesity.
And it’s our own fault too. We opened the Pandora’s Box of antibiotics by our own choice. We wanted to go bacteria-bashing and failed to think through the consequences.
Now we have no options. The issue is too big to address because we’ve never learned – all nations together – to unite in the face of a common cause.
Unless we do though, we’re going to wind up either very hungry – or big, bulky and helpless, like the dinosaurs.
There’s no escaping this one – not the fat, not the guilt, nor the accompanying illnesses.
And just because you’re not bulging yet, don’t think it can’t happen to you.
Because it will.
It’s gonna get you
Unless you stop eating completely – a one-way solution as the body eats itself.
So right, however we get our fatness, it all comes from food.
Which is why all the hoo-hah about diets and you-are-what-you-eat. Stick to this, give up that, do a ton of exercise with it. All very good and noble – and effective like moving deckchairs on the Titanic.
But you have to agree, the cause IS in the food we eat.
And it’s got to be in what ALL of us eat because ALL of us are showing signs – podgy round the edges, heavier in the jowl, visibly getting fat. Already two thirds of adults are overweight and getting fatter. Give us time, and we’ll all be two-ton Tessies whatever we eat– and yes, that includes the carrot-stick and bottled water brigade – the ones who eat Punishment Foods to stay thin.
Inevitable until we nail the common denominator. The one that’s staring us in the face – and has been for years.
The 1950s villain
Antibiotics – the same stuff the Doc gives us when we’re sick.
Er, but not given to us, not even close. They’re added to feedstuff or injected into the animals we farm and vegetable crops we grow.
Way back in 1950, researchers first noticed that feeding streptomycin to day-old chicks made them grow faster and bigger. Amazing – double the size for half the effort.
Today, nearly seventy years later, antibiotics are used by the ton world-wide to bulk up livestock of all kinds and enhance plant growth.
And there’s our fattening source, right there. Super high-powered growth promoters laced through everything we eat. Proven to bulk up living organisms and accelerate growth. They work for animals and they’re working for us too. With every mouthful, a little more, a little fatter.
They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere
Because what can you buy in the supermarket that does NOT contain antibiotics? Yeah, yeah, we’ve seen all the organic hype about no additives or preservatives, but who is monitoring antibiotic levels in our food – or even know they’re there?
And can’t we get rid of them? Take them out of our food before we eat it?
Well yes, but you’ve got to boil them out – let the food bubble furiously for at least thirty minutes. Then chuck away the broth – that’s where the antibiotics are – and rinse thoroughly.
Zero food value – and tastes like boiled knitting.
Because in some form or other, all farmed food contains antibiotics – either directly through animal feed, or in residual levels, via antibiotics-laden manure (beef cattle excrete 80 to 90% of the nutrients they consume) leached into the soil and from there into our river systems.
The only way out is switch to non-farmed food. Like deep sea fish and home grown vegetables – cultivated without fertiliser, of course.
Otherwise, better resign yourself to getting fat if you aren’t already. Or fatter, if you’re currently portly. Which of course triggers a whole string of obesity-related health risks – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, gout and asthma – long-term illnesses that take decades to claim you.
And that’s just for starters.
More ways to get ill
Time to remember the other thing that antibiotics do. Kill bacteria – the reason the Doc gives them to us in the first place – to clobber some infection or illness.
Yeah, they save lives – by killing.
And guess what? As doctors and researchers are encountering every day, our own bodies are 90% bacteria – as much part of us as our other vital organs – heart, lungs, brain.
So yeah, the antibiotic kills the bad bacteria that’s causing us illness. It also kills a slew of other vital bacteria alongside – a wide diversity that control digestion, regulate appetite, balance our metabolism, govern our immune systems.
Lose any of those and we lose what they do. Temporarily for some, because there are enough survivors to grow back. Permanently for others – minority groups that are wiped out. Every time the body is hit with antibiotics, it never comes back 100%.
Underpowered and out of balance, our body bacteria are less able to protect us from invaders trying to do us harm. We’re weaker, more at risk – an unfortunate disability we pass on to our kids. And to our kids’ kids.
Hell, this has been happening for nearly seventy years, we’re way more likely to get sick than ever before.
So what defence is there?
Lifesavers that kill
If we get seriously ill, antibiotics are the quick-fix that rescue us from disaster. Yet all the time they’re killing us – destroying our body bacteria – the microbiome that sustains us and provides our life force.
Better not to get sick in the first place. Avoid risks, grab whatever protection we can.
And STAY OFF ANTIBIOTICS.
Which means upping our hygiene – keeping ourselves clean so germs don’t get a shot at us. Washing hands, before and after everything we do. Something we all forget because most of the time they LOOK clean – we don’t see the microscopically small nano-dirt inevitably lurking.
Even that is not enough. Because the very next thing we touch is covered in germs too – they are on everything, in everything and riding the air too. Nano-dirt we can’t see – like the average office desk, inundated with 10 million disease-causing bacteria.
Touch your keyboard or your papers and your hands are dirty again – reloaded with germs waiting to have a go.
So we need to neutralise environmental germs too – sterilise the area around us to keep ourselves safe from their daily challenge – a regular hygiene habit like brushing teeth or using deodorant. Not the whole world of course, that’s impossible – besides most bacteria are actually beneficial, they’re only harmful in the wrong place.
Ah, but we CAN have a go at our workplace, protecting our colleagues as well as ourselves. Forty minutes with a Hypersteriliser mists up the entire space with hydrogen peroxide when everyone’s gone home – stretching up through the air, reaching into every crack and crevice, oxidising germs to nothing, keeping us safe.
Whew! Now all we have to do is get the weight off.
Serious, yes, because she’s talking about antimicrobial resistance (AMR). One by one, savvy bacteria have developed immunity to our miracle life-savers. Modern medicine is at the brink of a new Dark Age. No more heart transplants, hip replacements, or even C-section births.
So doctors are scared, but not poop scared.
But they should be.
Because all of them – the government, Public Health England, the General Medical Council, the NHS, everybody – they’re already in deep poo, and don’t even know it.
Sure AMR is serious. But alongside other concerns with antibiotics, it’s only the beginning.
Dame Sally puts that on a par with terrorism too – though it’s actually worse. Obesity that leads to diabetes, heart disease and cancer – around 30 million deaths and accelerating like crazy.
Yes, fuelled by sugary drinks, junk food and a couch potato lifestyle. But not triggered by them.
Our current slo-mo tsunami of accelerating obesity is from antibiotics in the FOOD we eat. Micro-doses in everything we put in our mouths – meat, vegetables, milk, water.
Down on the (factory) farm
Because micro-doses of antibiotics are exactly what farmers feed their animals to bulk them up and make them grow quicker. To obese-ify them.
They’re not supposed to, of course. Overuse of antibiotics by agriculture is a major cause of antibiotic resistance. And farmers use 240,000 tons of them worldwide every year.
Which is why antibiotic growth promoters are banned in the UK and EU – to prevent AMR from getting worse.
And we can thank antibiotics for that too.
At the end of World War II there were only 2½ billion of us on this planet. Today we are 7½ billion. Antibiotics lowered the death rate so more of us could survive. No longer just the fittest – but also the weak, those rescued from disease and infection. Another 5 billion of us.
Which is why farmers NEED antibiotics. To produce enough food to sustain us in such numbers. Except the planet hasn’t got any bigger, there’s no new land they can use for farming. So the only way to go is industrial.
Enter the CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or factory farms. Thousands of animals, concentrated in every available space. So many of them on top of each other that antibiotics are essential for keeping them alive.
Antibiotics not as growth promoters, note – that’s illegal. Strictly therapeutic. Ultra necessary in the close and unsanitary slum conditions these poor animals have to live in.
The effect is the same though. Antibiotics fed to animals every day in regular doses. All above board and within the law. With exactly the same obese-ifying effect.
So we eat them and we get fat too – from the residual antibiotics in their bodies?
You got it.
Although actually, farmers are supposed to withdraw antibiotics from feedstuff up to a month or more before slaughter. And keep strict records that they’ve done it. To ensure no antibiotics get into our own food chain.
Except they can’t always do that, can they? Their animals might die.
So there ARE actually maximum residue limits (MRLs) of antibiotics in our food – tiny doses of course. But it’s tiny doses that get fed to animals to obese-ify them in the first place.
All of which is before the REAL poo happens.
You see, it’s a fact of life that animals do not absorb everything they eat. Around 80% of it is excreted as waste. Which is how come manure has high nutritional value – it’s full of unused food.
So here we are – up to our necks in manure.
Because manure is used to grow crops of all kinds – including feedstuffs for livestock. So even though animals might not be dosed with antibiotics along with their food, they’re getting them anyway – from the grass, hay, maize, soya or whatever it is they’re being fed.
Better include fruit and vegetables too – and everything else. The entire food spectrum we get in our local supermarket.
Plus of course, manure leaches into the soil and into the water table – eventually into our streams and rivers. Swig a glass of water out of the Thames and it’s also full of antibiotics.
Oh, you want to get rid of the antibiotics before you eat them? Aside from any cooking you might do, you have to boil everything for at least 30 – 60 minutes. Though what your cauliflower cheese will taste like after an hour on the gas flat-out is anybody’s guess.
All of which means that our obesity epidemic is going to snowball – not go away. And that’s on top of the AMR superbug casualties we’re already taking. Millions of us face a long slow death thanks to illnesses brought on by antibiotics.
Dark Ages 2.0
OK, so suppose we get tough and ban antibiotics altogether?
Straight away we get Dame Sally’s Dark Ages. Forget to wash your hands and you could die from a paper cut.
But how are farmers going to sustain enough production to feed 7½ billion people without the power boost of antibiotics? No more factory farms, no more mass production.
Looks like medics will have to add malnutrition and starvation to the presenting symptoms they have to deal with.
Up to their necks in the brown stuff.
So when Dame Sally says wash your hands, we’d all better listen. Our only defence with antibiotics gone.
Soap and water. More than at any time ever in our history, our lives depend on it.