Chicken soup is the best we can do

dr daveWhile in Yellowknife giving a talk with fellow Wisequack, Dr. Rob Sealey Esq, we decided to explore the area by taking a hike, something we have often been urged to do. Before hiking, we met with a guide who reminded us that bears in the NWT have a bit of an attitude and a sense of entitlement. “In fact, they designed our license plates. But should you be pursued by a bear, you must not jettison your backpack as this will just habituate the bear to people and create problems for future generations. Please keep your backpack on your back; that is why it is called a backpack. Were it meant to be flung aside at a time of crisis it would be called grandpa.”

Now honestly, I’m thinking a little differently from the ranger here. If a ravenous Ursa Major is hot on my heels and wants my backpack and decides that if he doesn’t get it, he will rip it off me along with my arms and uvulas and pancreases and things, then the last think I am thinking is about the well being of future hikers and whether the bear will be habituated. No sirrreeee. I wish to be habituated myself, back to my couch and remote if at all possible. I am completely jettisoning that pack and will let him gorge on all the jujubes and Snickers bars he wants. The alternative is to smack Sealey in the back of the knees with my bear stick and then make a run for it. Actually, I planned to do that anyway as a backup.

Now as we all enter another cold and flu season, some tend to panic at the thought of a sore throat, sniffle or cough and come flying in to the clinic to see if we have discovered a miracle cure for the cold that we plan to share with nobody else but them. Folks, chicken soup is the best we can do. But many of these worried will still want an antibiotic despite the fact that the overuse of antibiotics can render bugs resistant for future generations to deal with. We can habituate these bacterial bugs... and we have.

In fact, our reckless use of antibiotics has made us complicit in the recently discovered and extremely dangerous super super bug. We have now created a monster that is not an actual bug itself (like MRSA) but is nastier. It is a plasmid.

A plasmid is a chunk of DNA that can be passed to ANY bacteria, allowing them to be resistant to antibiotics. MRSA, only a super bug, can still often be treated with powerful antibiotics, but the super super bugs are created courtesy of this plasmid that can slip into any old E. coli or Salmonella or Klebsiella and make them resistant to almost all drugs. This drug-resistant bacterial gene called NDM-1 (for New Delhi metallo 1 of course) has the potential to cause some major havoc.

Plasmids, which contain this NDM-1 gene, can be exchanged or transferred from one bacterium to another through conjugation (bacterial conjugal visits) in the passionate heat of an abscess, a bowel or Sudbury. It allows the organism containing the gene to adapt, thrive and reproduce in a hostile environment. Antibiotics, once a scary enemy to a bacteria, are suddenly as ineffective as a pygmy flea trying to take down a T. Rex of the Jurassic period which, as we all know, were larger and tougher than the T. Rex of the Cretaceous period and probably the Triassic age, making this a most excellent Pulitzerian metaphor or even like a simile. This has some scientists suggesting that the end of the antibiotic era is soon upon us. We may be resorting to Listerine, maggots and Kardashians. (Obviously Kardashians have nothing to do with helping improve society, maggots are infinitely more useful.) 

An August 11, 2010 report in The Lancet indicates that medicine has lost an important bacterial infectious disease battle and humans are at risk now more than ever. Indeed, this wee plasmid has powerful pandemic potential.

So resist developing bacterial resistance by resisting the urge to go looking for antibiotic treatments for a cold, flu, diarrhea or a trip to Sudbury. For Sealey’s sake...keep your backpack on.

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