Bacteria rule OK!

by on 16/01/2013

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Bacteria were here before we came – and they will be here after we’re gone. They adapt rapidly to new circumstances, and can live in the most inhospitable of climates. To help deal with them – we must keep our immune system strong to fight them off.

Deep under the sea

For example, bacteria even support a complete eco-system in the total absence of light! Thousands of feet under the sea – at such a depth that no light can penetrate – bacteria make it possible for other micro-organisms and fish to exist.

How do these bacteria live? They use the energy derived from breaking down sulphur compounds, rather than by using oxygen. Sulphur would kill the rest of us, but these bacteria thrive.

You send us drugs – we’ll adapt!

The cousins of these adaptable bacteria find it fairly easy to live in another hostile environment; in the body of a human being who has been given antibiotics. Our immune system has the job of fighting these bacteria off, and to enable them to do this effectively we must keep the immune system strong.

We think we have bacteria on the run…

In 1928, Scotsman Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin – the first antibiotic drug.

Some time later, in 1941, an easily useable form was introduced (Fleming, and researchers Floey and Chain, received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945). By 1944 penicillin was being used in the treatment of pneumonia and septicaemia, and was effective against all Staphylococcus Aureus (SA) – an infective agent commonly responsible for infections of wounds and burns. Round one to the humans!

…but they have beaten us roundly

We cannot possibly beat bacteria completely. They are too clever! We can try – by keeping the immune system strong – but will this be enough?

By 1945 – one year after penicillin was introduced – the first cases of penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus were reported. In other words, after a year, some of the SA bacteria learned to adapt so they could live with the first strain of penicillin without being harmed!

To counter this, chemists produced a second ‘isomer’ (variety) of penicillin. Again, this worked for a while until the SA adapted. This process continued – with the bacteria resisting each successive isomer of penicillin until they were all used up – nearly thirty of them.

We were in trouble again – no isomers of penicillin left. Round two to the bacteria.

More antibiotics

A series of stronger antibiotics were then developed, including streptomycin, tetracycline and erythromycin. Round three to humans.

By 1955, SA had developed strains which were immune to all these drugs. Round four – bacteria.

In 1960 methicillin was invented – again in the UK, by Beechams. This was a ‘wonder-drug’ at the time – and killed the resistant strain of SA nicely. Round five to us.

Another one year reprieve

Again after a year – in 1961 – the first methicillin-resistant SA (MRSA) appeared, in Guildford, England. It was the same as the previously resistant strain – except that it had grown an extra gene on the DNA.

Several epidemics followed, during which infection peaked in number, then fell back again. Eventually MRSA is all over the world. Round six – bacteria. Unfortunately, it is getting harder and harder for the immune system to fight off these infections – which are getting stronger and stronger.

Drug of last resort

When bacteria began to show resistance to methicillin, scientists turned to an antibiotic which had been around for some time, but which had been shelved – presumably because of its side-effects. This was vancomycin.

Vancomycin had to be administered intra-venously. If injected into muscle, it killed the muscle tissue. But, for people who had MRSA (or its relative – methicillin-resistant enterococcus) vancomycin was the last resort; so side-effects were considered worth risking. So – humans win Round seven. Though the bacteria are getting harder and harder for the immune system to fight – without the intervention of antibiotics.

Those pesky bacteria

OK – you’ve guessed it. By 1995 vancomycin-resistant bacteria have emerged.

There really is nowhere to hide. Bacteria really do rule.

What can we do – to avoid bacteria?

  1. Avoid operations. In hospitals there are more open wounds than anywhere else. This is why nearly all MRSA, VRSA and similar dangerous infections are caught in hospitals. Even minor operations carry some risk. If you can avoid it – do so. Give alternative medicine more of a chance.
  2. Keep the immune system strong at all times. You are more likely to get a serious infection of this kind if you are low in energy, and if the immune system is weak. If you do have to go into hospital for an operation, take a course of immune system boosting herbs for several months before you go in. And take some in with you – for example echinacea drops can easily be used in hospital.
  3. Keep your immune system boosted anyway – take a three month course every autumn to ready yourself for the winter.

Immune system links

How your immune system works

An overview of the immune system

MRSA links

BBC article about MRSA

Wikipedia article about MRSA

Wikipedia article about Vancomycin

So please do keep the immune system strong.

And – I know that when you really need them they are vital but, as far as possible, try to avoid hospitals

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