We are outnumbered. We’ve been outsmarted. We are outdated. We are at war with an enemy inside us, around us and on us. It is a battle that may be under the radar, but it is as real a threat to our existence as nuclear war. This is the combat zone between humans and the bacteria that we host. Although we are a more complexly- integrated group of cells, bacteria outnumber us 10 to 1.
The discovery of antibiotics in the 1930's turned the tables on the war against bacteria leading to greater longevity, fewer infant deaths and a drastic drop in maternal deaths. The great plagues such as TB, cholera, pneumonia were significantly curbed.
However, having the advantage of billions of years of evolution behind them, bacteria are now adapting to their increasingly hostile environments and we could soon find ourselves in the same position we were in a hundred years ago with few treatment options for bacterial infections. It is estimated that 700 000 people die each year worldwide from antimicrobial-resistant infections. The number is projected to increase to 10 million by 2050. These resistant strains are evolving in hospitals, the very place where healing is supposed to occur.
Awareness campaigns aimed at medical consumers are urging them not to request anti-biotics from their doctor, as every unnecessary prescription is a leak of information to the bacterial enemy. Bacteria have the ability to share their secret information on resistance to other bacteria and to genetically pass it down to their progeny.
Pharmaceutical research is slowly inching forward with new kinds of drugs to combat the problem.
There are a few issues though:
- The rate at which bacteria builds resistance is faster than the rate of new drug development
- Bacteria consistently rise to the challenge of outsmarting new drugs which means we are sliding down the slippery slope of current superbugs evolving into super-duper bugs and eventually uber-bugs...all of which will require more sophisticated medicines.
- A detrimental side effect of dropping the anti-biotic bomb on bacteria is that it not only kills the invaders but also innocent "civilians", some of whom we need to digest carbohydrates, absorb fatty acids, clear toxins, moderate our immunity and repair tissues. There is no drug that is specific enough to target only the disorderly pathogen.
Perhaps, we need a paradigm shift- one that involves more defence and less attack. One that understands that the line between "us" and "them" or "good" and "bad" bacteria is blurry. Homeopathy fits this paradigm as it supports the body’s efforts when fighting infection. The remedies act like a strategy to direct the forces to overcome the infiltration of bacteria. They augment the way that the body has chosen to improve its defences, mobilise its forces and conserve its resources. This would seem to be a safer alternative than a bigger and better antibiotic bomb.