Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How far is too far?

In the early days of human history, sanitation didn't exist. Some cultures changed that faster than others, but during the middle ages Europeans thought bathing made them sick (as opposed to the other way around) so used perfumes to hide the stench of their odoriferous bodies. (Just thinking about it makes me a bit nauseous.)

We, of course, thanks to various biologic sciences, know better. Clean is good. Cleaner is better. Sanitized is the best. Kill all those nasty little germs. Right?

Or have we gone too far?

Now, standing in my kitchen eating probiotic (i.e. bacteria laden) yogurt to jumpstart a system that too often stalls, seeing the anti-bacterial soap and dishwashing liquid on the sink, knowing my bottle of bleach and my disinfecting spray are close at hand, I have to wonder.

When I was a child (not quite the neolithic era, thank you), we spend most of each day outside. The tv, for those of us who had one, had a small, black & white picture and only three channels so, after Happy the Clown, Captain Kangaroo, and Gene London, out the door we went. We ate mud pies, swallowed earthworms, splashed in puddles, and got REALLY dirty (as in Mom turned the hose on us before letting us indoors.) And, for the most part, we were healthy.

Growing up, I only remember being ill three times: measles, mumps, and chickenpox. Flu, colds, a sick belly now and again, yeah, but my siblings and I didn't stay down long with any of them.

We always laughed that "God made dirt, and dirt don't hurt." I'm starting to think those words contain more than a grain of truth--along with the sand and gravel.

Today we hear more and more of a variety of illnesses preying on children. Asthma is rife. Some children live with daily doses of steroids. Allergies? Getting worse every day. Chronic diseases seem to shout from headlines followed closely by myriad genetic disorders.

Okay, the proliferation of media may, indeed, have something to do with our awareness, but the numbers don't lie; our children are getting sicker.

There are "good" bacteria and "bad" bacteria, but the broad-spectrum antibiotics prescribed don't differentiate. In fact, they have gone a long way, in conjunction with people who don't follow directions, into the creation of our current crop of super-bugs.

Now you may ask, why this discourse on a science-fiction writing blog?

It's the whole "What if" thing.

What if a society, in the name of sanitation, succeeded in killing all bacteria?

In my head, there is a story taking shape around the premise, but I'll not contaminate your thought processes with mine.

If this "What if" intrigues you, grabs a corner of your mind, and you'd like to share your thoughts, I'd love to see them. Do you think we've gone too far?


Houston A.W. Knight said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. IMHO - People have become way too dependent on what I call the white-man's medicine - antibiotics, steroids, the list goes on.

Worse part is, the stuff these white coats are giving out so freely - usually is very bad for us. Just listen to the ads...have you HEARD the side effects?

Yet, it amazes me how fast most people RUN to get the meds without question.

The white coats make a pill for everything these days - even shyness for Pete's sake.

No, not me - I'm a natural medicine
kind of girl and I will remain so until the white coats find a way (and they are trying, bless their little black hearts) to outlaw all vitamins and herbs. Last fight with the FDA was their trying to take Vit. C off the market.

They've already outlawed or gotten rid of herbs that will cure asthma - you can't even buy Oxygen any more. In the old days, my mom and Dad use to give me Oxygen when I was having an asthma attack - it always worked - just a few deep breaths and I was fine.

But trying getting a doctor to prescribe it for you (it has to be prescribed for you to legally buy it today) - he'll tell you just as he told me - "Oh, that doesn't work."

Yet, once they get you in the hospital ($$$ - the only thing they really care about.)what's the first thing they do? They give you Oxygen - hum, I thought that doctor said Oxygen didn't work?

Well, I best stop here or this will become a very long book. I guess you can tell - I don't like white coats....and to answer your question - yes THEY have gone too far....and a little dirt never hurt anyone.

Hawk (Houston A.W. Knight)

BrennaLyons said...

I agree that all we're doing by killing off 99.9% of the microbes on any surface is allowing the strongest to survive, reproduce and mutate to something even stronger. What once made you sick will kill you then kill you faster.

And if we don't do it that way, humans just have to play around in a lab and do it the other. Yeah...let's breed a better killing machine to see what happens? Ooops... What happens if it gets free?

A agree with Hawk about the pills. The doctors were stunned when I told them I wanted to use behavior mod systems for my kids and not pills. My sister learned that her son's ADD responded a million times better to a protein-rich breakfast (eggs and bacon, anyone? just like grandma made) and a cup of coffee in the morning. WOW! We had that cure all along. May not work for everyone, but I bet it would work for some of them, and all it takes is someone taking 30 minutes to actually cook a hot breakfast in the morning.

You can't build up immunities without exposure. That means letting the little monsters get good and dirty, from time to time.

So, what fertile little things does the mind come up with?

Eliminate all bacteria? Oops...they forgot the ones that keep you ALIVE! I was once given IV antibiotics for a kidney infection that would have killed me given in a shot. Even so, I was on acidophilus for days, because it killed off my entire digestive tract. Clue time. You DIE without a working digestive tract. But, they've killed it all off, and they've killed off the microbes in things like yogurt, I guess. So, the hapless humans all die off rather quickly and messily.

What else? They've killed off everything outside the human body, lived for a century without need for antibiotics, forgotten how to make them...and whoops...someone releases a whole slew of engineered bacteria and viri from an old lab, by accident, because no one remembers what they are...and no one has immunities anymore.

Oh, and let's not forget... You kill them all off, you can't make things like cheese and yogurt. What about yeast? Are we killing of them, as well? There were leavened bread and all manner of wines and beer...I could go on for days.

Good topic.

PJ von Detweiler said...

Okay, okay, I think I'll just change my name to Pandora! LOL All levity aside, you both make good points. Hawk, I, too, prefer natural medicines. God's pharmacopia has far fewer side effects and I swear by pleurisy root when my sweetheart bronchitis kicks up (It hasn't evolved into pneumonia since I started using it), but finding it can be such a joy.
Brenna, you hit the nail on the head; without exposure there is no immunity. So, are we protecting our children, or just making things more convenient for ourselves? Let's face it, sick kids are no fun, and ours is a hurray-for-me world.
That said, I'll stop before I climb onto my soapbox yet again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Lise said...

Pat, I do, indeed, think our phobia over germs has, along with our insistence on antibiotics (though as you say most don't follow the rules) for every sniffle, even if it is a viral infection upon which antibiotics have no effect whatsoever, turned us into an entire society of people rife for takeover by the little devils.

Stephen King's The Stand, taken further - what if, instead of the aliens for War of the Worlds dropping over from our bacteria, WE are the ones dropping over from an ALIEN BACTERIA - something benign to them or even beneficial that to us is DEATH. Rather like, for example, what happened to the Native Americans when we arrived with our smallpox blankets? Sadly, there are many scenarios whereby a germ run amok destroys mankind....and of course, we mustn't forget the man-made superbugs! Great blog - good topic - and sage warning to everyone to relax. That bug you kill may be your friend....someday.

PJ von Detweiler said...

Thanks, Lise. I remember reading about the native Hawaiians jumping into the surf for relief from the measles the English sailors brought to the islands. For all our intelligence, a small germ can decimate us. So let's do make our children weaker, shall we? Someone once said a child should eat a pound of dirt for every year of its life. Don't know that I ascribe to that, but I wish people would stop and think before jumping onto the advertiser's bandwagons.

Rowena Cherry said...

What an interesting idea for the future. By logical extension, maybe a "Dirty Jobs" doer would then be King because he'd have a stronger immune system.

Rowena Cherry
"If you've made up your mind to impale someone, do it with conviction."
~Rhett, Knight’s Fork

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

There you go, Rowena. Perfect logical progression: strength to power. Rather like the middle ages, if you think about it. Someone once said, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." Certainly seems so.

Thanks for stopping in.

PJ von Detweiler said...

Ooops. My historical persona made that last comment. Either way, it's still just me wearing a different hat . . . er . . .dress.