What is too small to see and can kill you in a day?
Given the current trend, you may be thinking of some sort of C-word virus, but what about something that you already have all over your body and in your house?
Good, old-fashioned bacteria.
Since the first regular use of penicillin in 1928, bacteria haven’t quite held the same horrors as they once did. It is worth remembering, however, that just under a hundred years ago a cut, sore throat or blistered heel could easily wipe you out.
Even after the invention of antibiotics, we have never quite won the war.
Famously, Robert Wadlow – the tallest man in the world, died in 1940 from a tiny wound on his foot. Ill-fitting shoes and braces designed to support his 8’ 11” height gave him blisters which then became infected and he ultimately passed away from a bacterial blood infection made worse by auto-immune disease.
We tend to think that when ‘cures’ come around things get better and we are safe.
“Once upon a time, there was no cure for infections then Alexander Flemming did his thing and dying from bacteria went away. The End”.
Actually, no. Bacteria and the Earth go together like cheese and jam on fresh bread.
Bacteria and humans live in symbiosis and have always done so.
We are covered in swarms of the stuff and, mostly, we don’t even notice.
Our body keeps us safe and even works alongside our single cell friends quite happily most of the time.
So called ‘good bacteria’, like the ones that make our gut-biome happy, are even ingested to make us healthier.
Without bacteria breaking things down, not only would we be in trouble, but the planet would be uninhabitable.
Unfortunately, like all things, too much of anything can lead to trouble.
Nature has one rule, and one rule only, adapt or die.
Overuse of antibiotics have led to adaptations of certain bacteria which we now call ‘super bugs’.
These resistant strains have taken nature’s rule to heart, they did not want to die, so they adapted.
We, however, are very much slower on our evolutionary path.
If you wash down antibiotics too often, you run the risk of not having enough of your own defences when the time comes to ask for help.
According to reactgroup.org, over 750,000 people a year die of a bacterial infection worldwide.
The top ten deadly bacteria are:
10- E. Coli – the one you get from unwashed salads or anything with faecal matter
9- Clostridium Botulinum – fruit, veg, seafood
8- Salmonella- another food one
7- Vibrio cholera- water, seafood
6- Tetanus – rusty nails, dog bites, tin cans
5- Klebsiella- your own gut or other people’s ‘juices’
4- Staphylococcus- food, pets, everything
3- Syphilis – sexy times
2- Streptococcus – snot- a sneeze- or someone coughing on you. Sores- don’t touch other people’s sores!!
1- Tuberculosis – someone coughing on you.
So, what happens when one of these rather rampant bugs goes into overdrive inside you?
On average, we humans carry a white blood cell count of between 5000-10,000 cells per microlitre of blood.
At this range, if you eat a dodgy prawn or scratch yourself on a chair, you won’t need hospitalisation.
If, however, something like Staphylococcus enters your body and finds a comfy place to settle, you can expect your white blood count to sky-rocket within hours to over 20,000 cells per microlitre. That sounds great, your body is fighting back, right? Yes and no.
Yes, your body is fighting back, but without medical intervention, at this rate, it will lose. This is what is known as septicaemia, better known as blood poisoning. Your white blood cells are drawing on everything they and you have to win this battle, and that is leaving you very, very vulnerable.
Leave septicaemia for a couple more hours, and your body will go into sepsis, or septic shock. By this time, you are dying.
Both septicaemia and sepsis can look like other things, which is why they are so effective and so deadly.
Fever, vomiting, nausea, cold hands and feet, becoming sleepy, light sensitivity, fast heart rate, fatigue and achy joints. All of these symptoms could be describing simple food poisoning, a migraine or the flu.
They are, in fact, signs of your body being over-run by bacteria.
A rash or swelling of the skin may develop- cellulitis- but again, it depends on where the infection has settled in.
Once septic shock has occurred, your survival rate, even with intense medical care, is 50%.
Yes, it is that serious.
The good news is that by identifying the infection early and getting onto BIG GUN antibiotics quickly, you will make a full recovery.
Thank you again Mr. Flemming.
To avoid getting into trouble, the take away is this. Wash your hands, keep your immune system in top gear and pay attention to any little cuts or sores you have.
Know where your food is coming from and take care when you prepare it. Cook things properly. Use protection if your playmate is new to you. Avoid coughy and sneezey people, where possible, and for goodness sake, DO NOT ignore the signs and symptoms of your body not coping.
Dying from the obvious, when there are so many more modern ways to go, seems a bit silly, don’t you agree?