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Apocolypse Now (Or At Least Pretty Soon Anyway) Part III

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Rob West
Rob West

In Bill Bryson’ history of the universe he includes a model of existence. If one were to stretch arms out to their fullest length and consider the distance between the two tips of the fingers as the expanse of time from the universe’s beginning to present day, the existence of humans could be removed with a gentle brush with a nail file. In other words we have been round for such an infinitesimal period of time that when compared to the universe we are most definitely mere and barely noticeable.

Life however has been around a lot longer. A recent estimate puts the beginning of life about 3.85 billion years ago. Some believe it was ignited by asteroids containing essential amino acids on a planet not even fully formed yet. This life was very small and very different to anything found today. However there are many creatures we barely notice that take up alot more space and are found in alot more places than one might think.

According to Bryson there will be about a trillion bacteria living on your skin if you are fit and healthy and survive on the various offerings given off at a microscopic level. They are the culprits for giving you B.O., cheeky little devils. Trillions more are deposited in your various orifices and passages within your body. Our bodies are made up of around ten quadrillion cells but is host to ten times that amount of bacteria, bizarre numbers for a bizarre fact. The point being that despite the many products on the market to dispel al these little guys from your bodies they are most definitely still with you so don’t go believing all the anti-bacterial stuff for a minute. We need them far more than they need us.

Bacterium divide to reproduce and mutate every once in a while to potentially produce a new type that is very possibly resistant to an antibiotic. When one is resistant they all can become resistant as bacteria can share genetic information. And thus to the point...

Though the vast majority of bacteria cause you no harm whatsoever and many are good for you. There are some that thrive on you being sick and many that will kill you. Some bacteria live happily in your throat causing mild discomfort but when introduced to other parts of the body they can kill you rapidly and painfully. Alot are immune to antibiotics and the numbers are growing.

The rather careless way that antibiotics are used in the western world means that more and more bacteria have become immune to their ways. 70% of them are given to farm animals as precautions against infection giving bacteria plenty of opportunity to develop resistance to them. Over the course of the last 60 years major strains of bacteria have been wiped off the face of the planet by antibiotics only to return with renewed vigour and totally resistant to antibiotics leaving doctors little option other than watching their patients die.. The regularity of this is growing and is reflected in such hospital dwelling hell-raisers as SARS. Our history is dotted with mass outbreaks killing hundreds of thousands of people before being placated or disappearing. Outbreaks such as Great Swine Flu, Lassa and H1N1 regularly occur and then disappear only to return more virulent. Our globe-trotting lifestyles invite wide spread disease without boundaries.

With outbreaks coming more and more regularly it could be only a matter of time before a really big global pandemic strikes again and it may not go away quite so quietly as has been seen in the past.

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