We hear a lot about danger posed by bird flu, which so far has resulted in the culling of millions of birds, but is not yet a widespread threat to humans. I sometimes wonder if our attention is not being deliberately diverted from real threats that exist here and now.
In an earlier essay I described some simple ways to avoid taking hospital infections home, namely don’t touch anything with bare hands, wash hands, and spray shoe soles with disinfectant. Hospital bacteria should stay in hospitals. Well, one got out.
What we commonly call staph is a garden-variety bacteria that humans have lived with forever. We normally carry around a number of different kinds of bacteria — we couldn’t digest our food without them — and as long as we’re strong and healthy, our immune system can cope with them. Confrontation with a strange new variety of bacteria, however, can cause serious problems.
MRSA is one such bacteria. This is a strain of staph that mutated into a form that is resistant to penicillin-related drugs. Its existence is one more unintended consequence of good intentions, in this case the intention to keep bodies alive long after the person has died. For better or for worse, determining brain death is relatively simple in a hospital, while deciding to pull the plug is immensely difficult. Nature recognizes the situation before we will admit it, and these otherwise benign bacteria attack. We fight the bacteria, and they fight back.
This silent war with nature has been going on in hospitals for many years. It never attracted much attention outside of hospitals until this bug got away. It seems to have found a new home in athletic locker rooms, which makes some kind of sense. Here’s a warm, wet environment that bacteria like, and a whole host of hosts. Get scratched up on the playing field? Here’s something your immune system didn’t anticipate.
Incidentally, the argument that doctors prescribing antibiotics for viral infections, like a cold, caused this problem, is not only false, it’s a deliberate lie. Journalists who spread this nonsense should be held accountable for covering up the truth. This stuff comes from hospitals, nowhere else.
And there’s worse on the way. VRSA is the result of using the powerful antibiotic, Vancomycin, in the same bio-culture media, the ultimate petri dish, the human body, to fight off MRSA. In other words, we have produced a staph bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics. It’s almost an epidemic in hospitals.
What to do? Be very careful inside a hospital, wear gloves, wash your hands, spray your shoes, and pass on the warning. Schools must clean locker rooms/showers with antibiotic solutions daily; they would do well to consult hospital personnel responsible for cleaning operating rooms. Better yet, homeschool the kids and keep them away from that environment altogether.
Beyond that, I can only say we’ve got to reconsider post-death life support systems. This is not a legal issue, it’s a personal issue. People must decide when dead is dead and not leave their loved ones to decay on life support only to produce horrendous new threats to the living. Bird flu is chicken feathers compared to what we already have at our doorstep.
Robert Klassen [send him mail] retired from a forty-year career in critical-care respiratory therapy. He is the author of five books, including Atlantis: A Novel about Economic Government, and Economic Government, which describe a solution to the problem of political government. Here’s his web site.