Antimicrobial resistance more unchecked than ever before.
The beginning of the end?
Not if Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn have anything to do with it.
They’ve just taken delivery of one of those American UV sterilising jobbies for evaluation. The thing that zaps pathogens with a blast of pulsed xenon.
Turning the tide
Way to go, QEH.
ANY move against infections is hugely good for all of us.
Especially the automated kind.
Because disinfecting and sterilising by hand is not just a thankless labour intensive schlep.
It takes forever and it’s too easy to miss bits.
High touch surfaces and work tops of course – but what about underneath things? Or behind medical equipment with all those coils and tubes and wires? Or the massive bit that never gets done because you can’t scrub empty space – the surrounding air in every room?
Zap! The American jobbie will do most of it. The UV rays attack virus and bacteria cell DNA, destroying it almost immediately. So it’s quick too, everything in sight sterilised in under ten minutes.
Short, sharp hits in places with a time crunch, wow.
But not everywhere.
UV’s Achilles heel
Because the UV rays only work in straight lines radiating out from the machine. Underneath and behind things still need attention. Follow-up hand-wipes on grab-rails and handles for instance.
A mega-step in the right direction though. Nailing anywhere from 60 – 80% of pathogens dead in minutes.
Especially those in the air. So microscopically small – but floating around – lying in wait in the biggest undefended space in any hospital room – more than 80% in some high-ceilinged wards.
Zap! Sorted. Zap! Sorted.
Imagine one of those in a hard-pushed A&E. No time to catch your breath, the next patient is in for treatment stat – and at least most of the place is sterilised. A fleet of smaller, inexpensive versions like the Hyperpulse, could chop infections massively.
So is 100 percent auto-sterile possible? Yes, with hydrogen peroxide plasma. (Tweet this)
Total room sterilisation
Ask the team in the haematology unit at Salford Royal NHS. For two years now, they’ve been holding infections in check with Hypersteriliser machines.
OK, they do take forty minutes to do a room, not ten.
But the ultra-fine hydrogen peroxide plasma mist that they disperse clobbers all viruses and bacteria completely. Any room treated with these things is sterile to Log 6 – 99.9999% of all germs totally annihilated.
Like a kind of super-gas, the hydrogen peroxide ions are charged – each molecule actively trying to get away from the same negative charge of all its neighbours. This spreads the plasma everywhere, forcing it hard against walls, ceilings, beds and furniture. Deep into cracks too, where hand-wipe cleaning cannot reach.
In the same instant, the negative charges actively reach out to grab positively-charged viruses and bacteria, releasing oxygen atoms at them that rip them to shreds. Boosted with silver, this action is multiplied three times over and more.
Forty minutes and it’s all over – any remaining mist reverting to harmless oxygen and water, which immediately evaporates. It can’t cure the patient, but at least you know the room you put them in is safe and totally sterile.
The war of course, never stops.
But it’s reassuring to know we have some effective weapons.
Overnight it’s become the world’s rally against terrorism of any kind, anywhere. An uplifting tribute to ordinary French people – and a defiant rejection of brutality, intolerance and violence.
If those big deals Blair and Bush had dared to show half such courage after 9/11, we would not face the senseless conflict that we do today.
Thank you France, if only we can be as strong as you.
Because threats by fanatics are not the only terrorism we face.
Just as evil as the atrocities in Paris is the daily slaughter of innocent people overpowered by Ebola – and the invisible conflicts that each of us face at every moment against viruses and bacteria.
In Paris, ordinary people just like us were cut down in a hail of bullets.
But spare a thought for those in hospital, often in pain and anguish, slowly succumbing to disease or infection that nobody wanted or provoked.
It might not look like it, but the world is a dangerous place.
Thanks to the stupidities of former leaders – who wilfully exploded the world into the dissension it faces today – a terrorist’s bullet could hit any one of us, at any minute.
But through our own lack of watchfulness, a germ could strike us down dead just as effectively.
All it takes is a lapse in hygiene habits, not washing hands or carelessness with food – and we are in trouble.
And germs are not like fanatics. They are everywhere, all the time – billions and billions of them surrounding every one of us.
The slightest little mistake or accident – even a paper cut – is all they need to invade our bodies and take us down.
And no, doctors and medicine can’t always fix it.
Because, horror of horrors, antibiotics don’t always work any more. Fifty years of relying on them for everything have given germs the chance to develop resistance.
You might go into hospital for a hernia operation, only to die from MRSA – methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus – one of the most deadly hospital acquired infections.
Of course, yes, it should never happen, you should always be safe in medical care.
But operations make people vulnerable – so many defenceless bodies, all in one place – all with cuts and wounds for germs to get in and do their dirty work. So you could be more at risk in hospital than anywhere else.
It shouldn’t happen, but it does – and what can the poor medics do when the antibiotic applied to control infection comes up against a germ that ignores it?
It’s terrorism, plain and simple. And much more deadly.
Because when a terrorist pulls the trigger, there’s the possibility he can miss.
But germs don’t miss. Once they’re in, they’re in – and it’s up to your own body to fight them. And germs are very efficient at making you die. Plus there’s no secret intelligence service to warn you of their presence, no police or military to protect you.
It’s not all doom and gloom though.
There are more than six billion of us, and we WANT to survive.
Time to up our game
Which makes prevention way better than cure. If we don’t get sick, germs can’t touch us. (Tweet this)
Better to assume they’re always there. That we always need to take precautions.
Washing hands. Being careful of everything we come in contact with. Everything we eat. Everything we breathe.
And sterilising our surroundings, to make doubly sure. Every room we’re in, totally free of harmful pathogens. Nothing in the air. Nothing on any surface. Nothing lurking in cracks or crevices.
Je suis Charlie. We have a lot to thank those wonderful French people for.
Their solidarity and courage is a vivid reminder that we must always be watchful.
A terrorist can strike at any moment. So can a virus or bacteria.
You wear a raincoat if it rains – probably carry an umbrella.
But how about a germcoat?
Every day, every one of us moves around with a personal aura of around 3 million microbes – smaller than raindrops or dust, hanging onto us by our own static charge.
Germ clouds gathering
Some of them are viruses, some of them bacteria. A few of them are even benign.
But count on it, the rest are out to get you any way they can – they just can’t reach you, floating around as individual cells. Your skin is too thick, you blink too often, your nose filters them out, and you keep your mouth closed.
There’s more of them out there in clouds as well. Billions and billions. Norovirus, rhinovirus, e.coli, campylobacter, salmonella, c.difficile, AIDS – so many, some of them don’t have names yet.
Don’t worry though, as long as they’re not inside your body, you’re safe. Just don’t give them a chance by letting your hands get dirty or wolfing down some dodgy food.
Always at hazard
But it”s not that easy – things can happen.
That bloke next to you in the Underground suddenly explodes and a mist of vapour and ewwy bits flies through the air. Not single germs any more – just one gob of snot is loaded with millions – enough to gang up and enter your body if you’re careless enough.
Luckily you have handiwipes in your bag and can clean the stuff off. You’re only exposed for a few seconds, hopefully you’re OK. Not so easy with the stuff you might breathe, though. You’re right to try to move away.
Right to wipe your hands too. Unconsciously, most of us are always touching our faces – wiping eyes, rubbing cheeks, gesturing up to our mouths. Entry ports for germs if you just let them.
Never thought about any of this?
Out of sight, out of mind
Most people don’t. Out of sight out of mind.
Not like those dark winter clouds above, or the rain splattering down around us.
Germs, microbes, pathogens – they’re all too small to see. Several million could fit on the head of a pin – so to have 3 million or so always floating around us means they’re actually quite sparse – an empty day for them.
You’d freak if they were dyed with colour so you could see them though. Hit by the sudden reality that you’re not as safe as you thought you were. Threatened at every second.
Well, not exactly.
You’re not attacked by wild dogs every time you step outside your front door, are you? Creepy buzzards don’t swoop down from the sky.
The same with germs. Except they’re always with you on the spot and ready, waiting – while the nearest pack of wild dogs could be several hundred miles away.
You’re no safer indoors, either. You can’t escape a germ cloud like sheltering from the rain.
Indoors is the one place where we can make ourselves safest. But – out of sight, out of mind – we never do it.
Out in the open, there’s no holding germs back. And they’re out there all the way up to the troposphere – scientists have found bacteria happily thriving nine miles up and beyond, no problem.
Indoors is different. In a closed environment, we can control the air.
Look at hospital operating theatres, clean rooms and computer data centres. By pumping up the pressure greater than outside, no air or germs can get in, everything is pushed out.
The air can be filtered too. Protected by high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters that are fine enough to trap many of the pathogens that threaten us.
We can even sterilise the place – eliminate viruses and bacteria immediately.
The quick way is with short wave ultra violet light. A few seconds exposure at close range and BAM, it attacks the germ cells’ DNA and destroys them.
A whole room of course takes longer – more time to reach places further from the light.
Better still is hydrogen peroxide, well-known as a germ-killer back in the Nineteenth Century. Souped up for the Twenty-First, it’s even more effective. Experiments have proved that in the gaseous state, it’s many times more efficient.
Difficult to work with though, as it decomposes easily. So the trick is to ionise it in liquid form and spray it out like a mist. Dispersed like this, its performance is formidable.
Ionising gives it a static charge that makes it spread more quickly, ultra-fine so it rises easily and reaches into cracks. The static charge also attracts it to germs, which it kills by oxidising – shoving oxygen atoms at them.
Neither viruses nor bacteria can survive this treatment – their cells are ripped to pieces. In twenty minutes – that’s all it takes – the average room is completely sterile. No germs, nothing.
Makes quite a difference to your health forecast, doesn’t it? If there aren’t any germs around, there’s nothing to touch you. You don’t get sick, you’re totally safe. And all it costs is about a fiver.
So why don’t hospitals, hotels, restaurants and schools use it all the time?
Well, why aren’t you wearing your germcoat?
Out of sight, out of mind. And most of the time, we’re healthy enough to get away with it.
Unless – cough, wheeze, sniffle – we’re careless or unlucky.
Unlikely, but the pathogen they’re being used against might.
Because increasingly, antibiotics are not working. The virus or bacteria involved has developed a resistance to it.
So what defence to we have? What can we do?
Strangely enough, stop using antibiotics so widely.
And not just among humans. On farms across the UK antibiotics are often shovelled into livestock as fast as possible. They protect animal health in high-density production areas – an uncomfortable reality causing a number of MPs to consider a ban.
But strict controls for animal antibiotics are already in place across the EU. They may not be used to boost growth for example, a big business motive for many producers.
The clock is ticking. Unless we move, antibiotics WILL kill us – not by themselves, but by not working when they are supposed to.
In China, where the avian flu virus H7N9 is a continuing issue, poultry houses are routinely fogged with disinfectant sprays to destroy germs before birds are infected. Hens can’t die if there aren’t any germs.
Which shows – as we’ve already known for yonks – that prevention is better than cure.
At Salford Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester, NHS staff are proving it. With automatic robots that mist patient areas with super-fine hydrogen peroxide. Viruses and bacteria are oxidised to nothing – with a “significant decrease in infections.”
“I am not a qualified physician, and I don’t want to give this injection,” sang Lord Kitchener in 1963.
With germ-killers like hydrogen peroxide around, injections or tablets of antibiotics may no longer be quite so necessary.
Soap and water is a first line of defence, right? Clean hands are critical to getting rid of germs.
Absolutely indisputably so.
Except soap and water doesn’t kill germs. It merely removes them – washes them away down the plughole.
Because all it is is water (H2 O) and sodium stearate (C18 H35 Na O2). Clever stuff for separating dirt and stuff from skin – but way underpowered at zapping germs dead.
And washing your hands only protects… your hands.
But viruses and bacteria surround us all the time – hands, body, face, mouth. They’re even inside us.
Most of the time we’re safe enough. Until the heavies show up: MRSA, c.difficile, salmonella, campylobacter – the usual suspects. Wash your hands of those, they’re still clinging on everywhere else. Murderers, if you give them half a chance.
Remember your hospital swab tests? In your mouth, your nose and your groin. Still not good enough is it? Because pathogens are up in the air too. Billions and billions of them. Wash them off, they’ll settle right back again. A never ending process.
Killing germs takes real power. And fortunately you’ve got it readily enough to hand – that amazing stuff from the Nineteenth Century, hydrogen peroxide.
How powerful is it? You’ve heard of peroxide blondes? This is the stuff that changes hair colour. Super-bleach, hyper-stripper, and powerful oxidiser.
Oxygen powered. From ὀξύς, the Greek word for acid. The same stuff that we breathe. The same potent substance that attacks our bodies every second we’re alive, requiring our skin to regrow itself every 27 days. It burns by shoving oxygen atoms at things that come in contact with it.
It’s super powerful too. Back in the day, the Royal Navy built two experimental submarines powered by hydrogen peroxide. Called the Explorer-class, they were super-fast boats, with a speed of nearly 27 knots underwater on just one turbine.
Trouble was, at the super-concentration they were using it at, the stuff was unstable. Navy wags took to calling it the Exploder-class. Amazingly powerful, and only replaced when nuclear power came along.
That kind of oxidiser.
Now imagine that going up against C. difficile, MRSA, SARS, salmonella or E. coli. Out in the open – floating in air, on the skin, or on high-traffic contact surfaces – it is vulnerable and defenceless. It doesn’t have the human body to protect it.
Against a fine mist spray of hydrogen peroxide, there is only one outcome. The pathogens are ripped to pieces and cease to exist. All of them, not just one type. And the room is sterile. Not a source of infection anywhere.
Until one of us humans walks in, dragging a cloud of new microbes along with us.
But better protected than we ever were with soap and water – though of course, that is still necessary.
Kinda like the ostrich with it’s head stuck in the sand.
If we can’t see it, it isn’t there.
Like NASA’s quarter-mile wide “Great Pumpkin” Halloween asteroid set to graze past Earth at 22 miles per second in a near miss of barely 300,000 miles on October 31st.
Don’t expect to see it without a radio telescope. Or hear a bang. Or anything.
It’s so far out of sight – and out of mind – it might as well not exist.
We recognise it as a threat though.
Someday, some monstrous piece of space junk will come hurtling through the atmosphere – and that will be us, gone the way of the dinosaurs. Like the WTF anomaly that’s supposed to wipe us out on this year’s third Friday 13th, next month in November.
Unless we can stop it. Which believe or not, our li’l old UK government is planning to do. Guess that Bruce Willis Armageddon movie woke up some back-benchers.
The end of the world is nigh
But it’s not an asteroid that’s going to nix us. Something much more deadly is already here and active. Equally out of sight, and equally out of mind. And from the way we’re going, we’re not doing a damn thing to protect ourselves.
Funny that. In our security-obsessed ‘Elf & Safety world – seems we do nothing without some kind of protection.
Chefs wear oven gloves. Cyclists wear crash helmets. Kids wear goggles for conker fights. Just about everything we do has protective clothing or safety devices to stop us coming to harm.
Except from ourselves.
We safeguard ourselves from cold with central heating. Wear gas masks to protect us from carbon monoxide. But we are our own worst enemy and don’t even know it. Out of sight, in plain view, right there in the mirror.
OK, so we stare – some people are really self-obsessed with it. But nobody sees, ever.
They think they’re looking at the image of a human being.
Yeah, well. That’s only 10% true.
We’re all of us, aliens
The rest is 90% bacteria – trillions and trillions of individually invisible microbes that outnumber our human body cells by more than 10 to 1. Which makes that reflection in the mirror as alien as a slithering 20-tentacled extraterrestrial. Face it, we just don’t know ourselves.
We actually need those bacteria – even live in partnership with them. About the biggest outsourcing arrangement of all time – on the go for millions of years. They help us digest food, produce proteins, keep our system in balance and even regulate our body defences for us.
Sure. Most of the time they see off enemy bugs by crowding them out. Otherwise they fight or eat them.
Because there’s deadly pathogens in our bodies all the time – harmful bacteria, dangerous viruses, fearsome fungi. As long as they’re passive and keep their heads down, nothing happens. But let our bodies get out of balance and they let rip. Infection, disease, or just plain feeling sick – all ready to go.
Yeah well, there’s not much we can do about the pathogens inside us, apart from keeping healthy, so long as they stay schtum.
Trouble is, it’s not just our bodies that are colonised with bacteria – it’s everywhere. Every object every surface, every living thing – inside and out – even the air itself is teeming. Billions and billions of microbes all looking for a place to live.
Colonised – full house
Inside our bodies if they could – but that’s already occupied.
So the next best thing is to invade where possible. Through a hole in our defences from mishap or injury. Or more often, breathed in from the air – or on something we eat.
Breathed in, yeah – we know about colds and flu and stuff. And the heavy-hitters, anthrax, chickenpox, measles and TB.
Most of the time OK – air spreads things out, disperses them more widely so they’re not all together – and one or two single germs can’t crack it by themselves – there have to be 10 or 20, depending on how potent they are. And how concentrated – which is why being in a smallpox ward without a facemask is not a good idea.
Ah, but eating stuff. What protection do we have?
For the average Tom, Dick and Harriet – absolutely zero. Because it’s a shocking fact of life that pretty well all of us – 95% of us – don’t ever wash our hands properly.
And our hands, like everything else are covered in germs. Unless we wash them off, those germs go down the hatch, straight into our digestive system. Too many bacteria of the wrong kind in the wrong place – certain disaster.
Which is when we usually run to the Doc for antibiotics – and why this blog is called Back Off, Bacteria!
The miracle that became a disaster
Whoops – antibiotics. A whole disaster story, right there.
Once upon a time, they were the fairy tale miracle drugs – the fix-all for everything. Farmers thought so too – especially in putting weight on animals for market. Beef, pork, poultry – you name it, antibiotics brought the profits rolling in.
Fifty years later, the world is drunk on antibiotics – obsessed and paying the price. 65,000 tons of them are used on farms every year. Totally overused and abused so that bugs are resistant to them – so that routine surgery is almost not possible any more. Even the smallest cut risks major infection.
Even worse, antibiotics have inundated the food-chain. There’s antibiotic traces in everything we eat – even in plants, from the recycling of animal waste.
Net result? We’re not as tough as we were fifty years ago. Not as resilient to bugs – with lower resistance, more susceptible diseases and infections. Our systems haven’t been exposed since infancy, our immune systems no longer learn or remember.
Paying the price
Remember norovirus? Never heard of it before 1968 – now it’s with us every year, the winter vomiting bug. Last week Barrow, this week Scarborough – with guest appearances on the cards up and down the country all through the season.
Forget to wash your hands – and you too can be one of the thousands to come down with it this year. Or e.coli, or salmonella, or campylobacter, or c.difficile – take your pick from the regular stomach upsets.
ALL OF THEM AVOIDABLE with the simplest of basic hygiene.
So here we are in the Twenty-First Century, a human catastrophe staring us in the face – and doing nothing about it.
We don’t wash our hands. We’re not even aware that each of us trails our own cloud of bacteria around with us like an aura. That in places where we gather together, we’re all exposed and vulnerable to each other. At work, at school, in restaurants – and of course, hospitals.
OK if we’re all of us in balance – but nearly every one of us has some underlying condition or weakness in our systems – the weak link to let bugs in and attack us.
Alright, so most of us are untouched – not immune, but able to handle things.
But some of us are vulnerable – and any infection, even from a papercut, can be fatal. Ever heard of sepsis? It’s the worst blood poisoning in the world, immune system in total meltdown – a common and potentially life-threatening infection.
Rescue in sight
But there is a defence. An effective fail-safe, even though our own hygiene standards are so lax. Because it’s not just our hands we forget to wash – when was the last time you wiped down your desk? Or disinfected the washing-up bowl and dishrack?
Inside you too – as much as 6 pounds of them. Smaller than the eye can see, which means billions and billions. Like, more than 60 billion in your mouth alone – more than the number of people on Earth.
Yes, you’re covered in germs – and you’re still walking around, happy as Larry.
Living with danger
First off, your immune system is up and running, keeping you out of trouble. Like a Star Trek force-field, it prevents infections happening before they start.
That cut on your hand, for instance. It bled a bit, so you sucked at it until it stopped. Maybe washed it, but that made it bleed more. So you held a tissue over it before it stopped you doing stuff – and then you forgot about it.
A cut, on your hand. Which you use for everything. Getting goo in it, dirt and crud. Petrol even, from filling the car. Dirty water, clean water, hair gel, raw food. See how your force-field protects you?
And it’s stronger, more effective for all the dirt you used to eat as a kid. All the bacteria types it learnt about and sussed how to handle. The body’s bio-database, keeping you healthy.
The 2% bad guys
Second, not all germs are bad. Only around 2% contain harmful pathogens that can actually do you damage. The rest are either benign, just coasting until they find the REAL host they’re looking for, or even actively beneficial.
It’s not just pro-biotic yoghurt that’s good for you. Down in your gut there’s around 4,000 other bacteria types necessary for digestion. The body did a deal with them millennia ago – now they live inside you in perfect synergy – you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.
Thing is though, 2% of billions and billions is still a lot.
Which means you’re still at hazard if you don’t take care.
Snatch hold of a grab-handle in the Underground and you’re probably OK, even though it’s a high-touch object and certainly has germs on it. Just not the bad guys, most of the time.
Grab hold of a bed-rail visiting somebody in hospital though, and it’s another story. It’s a high-touch object too, but in hospital people are ill. A large number of ill people all in one place. So all that hand-washing they bang on about is to protect you as much as them.
And just because you’re safe most of the time doesn’t mean you should take chances.
Wash, wash, wash
Washing your hands after using the loo is like super-important. It’s impossible to avoid getting yuck on them, especially if you do a No 2.
But you’ve got to wash properly, not waggle your fingers under the tap. Use soap and work it around and through your fingers. Keep at it while you run all of “Happy Birthday” through your head. 90% of us never do this – and then wonder why we come down with norovirus or salmonella or e. coli or whatever.
Use a paper towel to dry off with too. Not a cloth one, even at home. Germs cling onto that big time.
And not one of those air dryers either – you know, the hot-blow squeegees? Just look around, on the walls and floor where they’ve got these things. Drops of water, right? Faecal-contaminated water from somebody’s bum.
So keep your hands to yourself and get out of Dodge, ASAP. You’re in a bad location where the 2% boys hang out – which is why public toilets have the bad rep that they do. They might look spic and span, but all that moisture – germs love it, floating around in the air.
And bad germs from our hands probably cause more illnesses than any other sources put together. We touch ourselves and each other – particularly our faces – and the 2% boys climb in through the soft mucous membranes of our eyes, nose and mouth.
Next thing you know, heave-ho, up-chuck, beebaa siren – and they’re rushing you into an over-crowded A&E.
A Little Bit of Soap
Yup, suddenly you’re another statistic for the punch-drunk NHS – continually reeling from admissions like yours – that could all have been prevented by a Little Bit of Soap, like the Jarmels sang in 1961.
If 95% of us don’t wash our hands properly, how many hospital cases could we prevent if we did? (Tweet this)
Which is why, wherever germs threaten, more and more places are starting to use a Hypersteriliser.
No, it won’t clean your hands – nor will it knock out the billions of good germs already inside your body.
But it will take out ALL germs – including the 2% boys – in any room that’s treated with its super-fine germ-killing hydrogen peroxide plasma mist.
No getting sick, no over-crowded hospital – even though you’re still covered in germs.