Resist the resistance

For this week’s blog I thought we would cover something slightly different. This is mostly because it’s snowing, and there is nothing to do around the farm. That is fairly normal for a January down here. Things will start to get really busy beginning of spring and we can go back to blogging about farming.

Ow, and before we start I would just like to say, I am currently eating an almond croissant that has been dunked in rum and covered in icing sugar! Delivered straight to my front door so I don’t have to even go out in the snow! I have the best baker!

Anyways, so today we are going to talk about antibiotic resistance. We can explore what it is, why it’s important, how it works and what can we do about it. Agriculture is the biggest contributor to antibiotic resistance in the world so it’s important future smallholders, and everybody really, knows about it.

Antibiotic resistance, is simply when a bacteria is able to withstand the maximum safe dose of an antibiotic medication. No bacteria could resist a full dose of antibiotic, however, the dose that can be given, can only be as high as the host organism (the human or animal being treated) can take without harm. This maximum safe dose is actually relatively pretty low, so there is a very narrow margin that we can work with in antibiotics. Once a bacteria is resistant to the safe dose, then it cannot be destroyed inside the body and is free to spread and potentially kill the host. Obviously that is bad. Very bad. At the rate we are going, if nothing is done, cancer treatments, minor operations etc could become a thing of the past as antibiotics are needed to deal with reduced immune systems following chemo/radio therapy and surgery. We are not talking in a 1000 years either, we are talking within our lifetime. Finding new antibiotics only delays the problem, as resistance will eventually occur to these new antibiotics.. Not that their has been any new antibiotics for decades!

We are now at a critical stage. The chief medical officer for the UK as described antibiotic resistance as the biggest threat to national security. The problem simply is that too many antibiotics are given out. Up until recently, due to an interventionist approach to healthcare, antibiotics were given for anything, even viruses (where antibiotics have no effect) “just in case”. The NHS is slowly moving away from such a interventionist approach, but there is still a long way to go. In agriculture, antibiotics are given even if the animals are not sick, it acts as a growth promoter, so cattle in some countries like America are permanently on antibiotics.

So why is taking antibiotics so bad? Well, antibiotics force evolution. Since bacteria reproduce so quickly, and have a very high rate of mutations per reproduction cycle, evolution occurs on fast forward with them even under normal circumstances, let alone when we give them a helping hand with antibiotics.Your body is completely full of bacteria. Inside and out. Have you just had a shower? Well you are still covered in bacteria! The soil, the air around you is also full of bacteria, they are everywhere. The vast majority don’t bother anybody, some even are essential to life. Like the bacteria in your digestive system who help you digest your food and keep you alive. Also in your body, are some bad bacteria, that if were present in larger numbers would make you sick. But the good, the bad and the others all have to share the same, limited amount of food. So none of the bacteria can outgrow the other. They all live in perfect happy harmony. In that bunch of bacteria some, will already naturally be more resistant to antibiotics then other. That’s normal, and due to slight genetic variations caused by naturally occurring random mutations. Now, for some reason, another, stronger, “bad” bacteria gets into your body, or one of the bad bacteria already in your body manages to take a hold. You become sick and decide to take antibiotics. The antibiotics will kill a lot of the good bacteria and most of the bad bacteria. But the already slightly resistant bacteria will survive. With the other bacteria gone, what’s left can have a real picnic and take all the food so they can reproduce faster. You now have created a population of fairly resistant bacteria, that will be shed into the environment. A while down the line, the hosts takes further antibiotics. They no longer work on that already mutated bacteria, so a stronger dose might be needed now, and like before the most resistant are all that is left, but now they are resistant to an even higher dose of antibiotics. This cycle goes on until the only bacteria left are the ones that can resist the maximum safe dose and are untouchable. This cycle not only happens in bodies but also in the ground where antibiotics from agriculture are passed through muck spreading, barn dust etc. Look I drew a little diagram!

How have we let this happen? did we not known about it? Yes, actually, we did. We have always known. Antibiotic resistance was observed all the way back to 1928 on the discovery of antibiotics themselves. So how do we stop this? Well it’s simple: STOP TAKING ANTIBIOTICS! Whether you are human or a cow. Antibiotics should only be taken for potentially life threatening bacterial conditions. Even to this day, I have witnessed some GPs, against the advice of their own NHS clinical guidelines, still give out antibiotics for mild tonsillitis for example. This is particularly bad as a test is not performed to identify whether the tonsillitis is viral or bacterial in nature, and even if bacterial, research shows that taking antibiotics for tonsillitis only reduce the length of the episode by a few hours. In farming, by only administering antibiotics for life threatening conditions, you will be saving human lives in the long run. Simple as that! Farmers: Follow your bio security measures, keep your stock healthy and they wont need antibiotics.

And that’s it from this week’s blog. Let me know if you enjoyed it, and whether you wanted more science based blogs in the future. Stay awesome.

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