Are We in Danger of Leaving a World where Survival to Adulthood is a Lottery.

ID-100122573The body’s growing lack of efficient immunity to fight common illnesses, and the growing ineffectiveness of antibiotics to help treat them, are two of those evergreen topics which refuse to lie down. Like now, when the Ebola crisis is wreaking havoc across West Africa. With the lack of any effective treatments or vaccine for the virus, it would seem some survive due to a strong immune system and the rest perish.

Not quite as simple as that, the very young and the old are more susceptible, as are those already suffering debilitating illnesses. But basically, in West Africa at least, it would appear anyone who has contracted the virus, lives or dies depending on their own body’s internal strength.

The basic immune system:

Doctors have long been concerned about inadequate development of the immune system caused by over hygienic practises, coupled with antibiotics being ineffective against many bacteria.

I don’t want to get bogged down in a medical definition of how the immune system works. Suffice to say it works in two ways. Firstly; to seek out, log, and destroy, any foreign body which finds its way into the system. Secondly to remember the makeup of that foreign body, and be prepared, should any future invasion occur.

Natural immunity is losing its strength:ID-100125322

As a young child growing up in the 1950’s, although antibiotics were available, vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles), weren’t. What was known, to catch any of these diseases in adult life, invariably led to other more severe complications.

To avoid this risk, mothers would take us kids, 5 years old and upward, to anyone’s house where their child was suffering one of these diseases. We were too young of course to realise what was happening, or why we were there, except to play. The idea was we caught the disease and suffered it. The only ‘treatment’ we got was aspirin, to lower the fever, and bottles of calamine, to be dabbed on the itchy spots. Sometimes mothers fitted us with mittens, so we couldn’t take the scabs off, which would leave scars.

I contracted all three, plus chicken pox, by this method. The immune system though, logged and remembered them, and they never troubled me again. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not advocating we go back to that method. Unfortunately some children did die, today’s MMR jab is a much safer option.

Another time, as a small toddler, my mother wondered why I had gone so quiet in the front room. She hunted me down, and found me sitting behind the sofa, chewing on a garden slug. Mother’s finger went into my mouth to extricate the remains of said chewed slug. I was leaned over the kitchen sink, made to take a mouthful of water and spit it out, told not to do it again, and went back to play. No rushing to A&E, no dialling 911, 999, or 112. My natural immunity did the rest.ID-100137106

The reasons for our lowered resistance:

Overusing antibacterial cleaners and disinfectants in the household, places of work, and anywhere else we humans gather is considered the prime culprit.

Every time young mums turn on the television they are bombarded with adverts showing grotesque, enlarged, caricatures of supposed different, deadly, microbes that invade every space of the house and how bad they are. Using product A, is the only way to kill them.

The problem is it doesn’t, and many of the survivors are becoming more resistant to antibacterial and antimicrobial medical treatments. Good old hot soapy water and cloth, used to wipe over all surfaces, does just as good a job. The microbes that survive this treatment are at least not going to be antibacterial resistant.

The modern world’s obsession with these extreme levels of cleanliness: and the manufacturers determination to sell their products, has led to antibacterial agents such as triclosan being used in many things other than cleaning products. It can also be found in garbage sacks, carpet underlay, and different textiles.

All bacteria laying around on worktops or anywhere else are not all bad. As with the human body, there are good and bad bacteria but antibacterial agents will kill them all, or try to.ID-10028599

Add to that today’s super, suck-it-all-up, vacuum cleaners, and the amount of bacteria, good or bad, which is available for baby’s immune system to practise on, is greatly reduced. Consequently baby rug-rats crawling around on carpets, won’t be breathing in the bacteria they need for their immune system to practise on and develop. This is thought to be one of the reasons for the increase in children developing rhinitis, asthma, and becoming more susceptible to various common allergies.

Over prescription and use of antibiotics:

Prescribing antibiotics by doctors in the UK began to increase alarmingly during the 1960’s-70’s. With heavy patient workloads in overcrowded surgeries, many less conscientious doctors began prescribing antibiotics at the drop of a hat. Sore throat, prescription for antibiotics; next please.

Antibiotic medications are not effective against viruses, flu, the common cold, most sore throats, and certain ear infections. Yet they were prescribed to placate patients who believed a course of antibiotics was the cure all. Add to that patients told to complete the five day course. Day three found them feeling better so the course was stopped; some bacteria would survive and begin to develop immunity to the drugs.ID-100125318

It has been known for over 60 years, bacteria have the ability to become resistant to every new antibiotic developed. The increasing use of these antibacterial and antimicrobial cleaning products in everyday life; plus misuse of antibiotics can only worsen the situation.

In 1924, American President Calvin Coolidge’s 16-year old son died of septicaemia caused by a blister. Playing tennis without socks, a blister developed on a foot which turned septic, and entered the bloodstream. He died within the week, no antibiotics in those days.

Should things continue as they are, are we in danger of finding ourselves in a similar situation? A scratch from a rusty nail, or a punctured finger from a thorn bush while gardening, turning septic. A depressed immune system and no effective antibiotics available to treat the infection; may well see us, or our children, taking the same journey.

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  1. n.c. radomes

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