How safe you are depends on you.
We’re all different – with different bodies, different strengths, different weaknesses. We all react differently to the world around us. We all have different luck.
We look after ourselves differently too. Some of us are OCD about cleanliness and health – Michael Jackson famously slept in an oxygen chamber.
Some of us are so lax, our hygiene is really logiene – we’re border-line stinky bad.
Not surprising when you look at the facts – it’s a wonder we’re not sick all the time.
- 95% of people don’t wash their hands properly.
- 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after the loo.
- Only 12% of people wash their hands before eating.
Scary when you realise how germs really are all around us – and how at risk we are in very ordinary situations.
- Office desks often harbour 10 million germs or more.
- Keyboards on smartphones and tablets are riddled with more bacteria than toilet seats.
- Most kitchens, particularly sinks, are alive with all kinds of invisible and harmful germs.
It’s not just germs on surfaces either. Every single one of us has our own cloud of germs we carry around with us – our own microbial signature, more unique and accurate than any fingerprint or retinal scan.
Always under threat
So why aren’t we dead?
Good question, because those germs certainly have a good go at us. Which is why so many of us keep getting ill all the time – down with e.coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, the superbug MRSA, colds and flu – and most often norovirus. And why sick days cost the country £29 billion a year.
Only our immune systems keep us going. Protecting us from infection, defending us from harmful viruses and bacteria, keeping us safe.
Which is weird when you think about it, because our immune systems are largely controlled by the 100 trillion or more bacteria that live in our gut – our own microbiota. Don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there – in fact 90% of the substance we’re made of is actually bacteria more than human. Our own “good guy” germs inside – to protect us from the “bad guy” germs outside.
All hunky dory, except we’re not very good at keeping our own “good guys” safe. With our sloppy hygiene habits, we give the “bad guys” more of a chance – collecting them mostly on our hands from the dirty air and surfaces around us, then transferring them to the sensitive tissue around our eyes and mouth – most germs’ favourite way into the body.
Uh huh. And when we get sick?
Run to the Doc for antibiotics, right? Our miracle wonder-drugs to get us out of trouble.
Once upon a time, yes. But not now.
Increasingly, doctors are finding that the bacteria causing the illness they’re treating us for are becoming resistant – the drugs just don’t work any more.
That’s not exactly surprising either, antibiotics have become so over-used and abused that 10 million prescriptions a year are written unnecessarily – for colds or sore throats, which antibiotics can’t cure anyway.
Worse still, antibiotics are shovelled into animals for food production at the rate of 65,000 tonnes a year – because of the amazing side effect that they make things grow bigger and faster – making everyone loads more money.
All of which gives bacteria plenty of opportunity to develop immunities – which as one of the oldest life forms on Earth they’ve been doing successfully for millions of years. However potent the antibiotic we develop is, sooner or later bacteria will always find a way to mutate around it. Usually sooner, they can reproduce in as little as twenty minutes.
Just check their track record. Against penicillin, discovered in 1928 with resistant staph emerging in in 1940; tetracycline, introduced in 1950 with resistant shigella in 1959; erythromycin, launched in 1953 with resistant strep occurring in 1968; methicillin in 1960 with resistance in 1962; levofloxacin in 1996 with resistance in the same year; linezolid in 2000 and resistance 2001; daptomycin in 2003 and resistance in 2004.
We are what we eat
Oh yeah, and the other thing is, we’re all of ingesting small amounts of antibiotics all the time. They’re stuffed into animals, so we gobble them up too – either directly from the meat, or indirectly, through the antibiotics-laden manure that’s used to grow fruit, veg and grain – and of course feedstuffs for other animals.
And antibiotics work by killing bacteria – including our own gut bacteria until they develop immunity. Which means our own immune systems are constantly under attack, by the very wonder drugs that are supposed to be saving our lives. Either as medicine or as food, our poor gut bacteria face constant assault from which they never fully recover.
Which means from generation to generation, we’re not as resilient as we used to be. Weaker, less able to stand up to threatening infections. And fatter – antibiotics boost animal growth, remember? So two thirds of adults and one third of children are all increasingly obese. All in an environment where our wonder-drugs don’t work.
Get the message? We’re not as safe as we think we are.
Playing it safe
UNLESS we make a point of keeping our hands clean at all times – particularly before food and after going to the loo.
AND if we keep our surroundings germ-free too – our homes, workplaces, schools, public buildings, everywhere.
NO viruses or bacteria anywhere. Except outside where they should be.
Safe from our “good guys” inside, where they should be.
Picture Copyright: liubomirt / 123RF Stock Photo