Menstruation Proclamation Episode 1: Toxic Shock Syndrome

The first time a young woman uses a tampon can be a pretty scary experience, and a lot of them will refer to the little instruction leaflet inside the box to figure out how to use it exactly. Emblazoned across these sheets will be the note “WARNING: RISK OF TOXIC SHOCK SYNDROME. Which scared the shit out of 13 year old me. I don’t want a syndrome, I just wanna be able to go swimming with my period!? What do I do!?

So let’s dive in, what is toxic shock syndrome, and why does using tampons mean I could get it?

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Not even the weirdest drawing I’ve done for this blog.

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS for short) describes a variety of symptoms that can occur when you get an infection with a particular bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus or in rare cases, a group A Streptococcus. Now let me tell you this; 30% of the entire world population have S. aureus in their nasal passages. And about 100% of the world have S. aureus living on their skin. In general, it is not a harmful bacteria. BUT. S. aureus is what we call an opportunistic pathogen; given the right opportunity, it will multiply and do stuff to cause infection and make you sick. In the case of TSS, the opportunity comes in the form of a vagina, as many opportunities do.

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The land of opportunity.

Lemme paint you a picture. A young woman has just played the first half of the school semi-final in football. It’s half-time, and she rushes to the loo to change her tampon before the second half of the match begins. She’s been stopped on the way to the bathroom by a teammate to discuss tactics, hence she has to hustle to get back to the game on time. She goes into the loo, and without thinking, changes her tampon without washing her hands first. In the meantime, a nasty little S. aureus bug called Lionel has been hanging out on her hands. When she touches the tampon and inserts it into her vagina, Lionel seizes the opportunity and jumps from her hand to the tampon. Now he’s all up close and person with her cervix, and he’s like “OMG! It’s so warm in here! There’s lots of moisture! And delicious food (in the form of menstrual blood)! I think I’ll set up camp here and make some babies.” And so Lionel does, and an infection begins.

Now here’s where we get a bit complicated. You remember how you have that immune system thing? Okay, so what Lionel the S. aureus bug does, is he releases a bacterial toxin called the toxic shock syndrome toxin (TSST). This toxin activates those T cells in your immune system, which then go, “Hey, we’re under attack! Let’s kick some ass!” Except the toxin non-specifically activates those T cells. And this is bad because the TSST doesn’t just activate a few T cells to take down the bugs, it activates a whole buttload of them. It basically runs around the body knocking on every door going “HEY WAKE UP” and it wakes up the whole town instead of just the sheriff. Around 20% of the T cells in the body actually (that’s ~50,000 times more than needed). This makes TSST a superantigen.

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So we have 20% of the T cells in the body working, which means we should clear the infection quickly and be on our way right?

Well here’s the thing, T cells do kill bugs, but they do it in a way which could actually kill you. By activating this much of the immune system the body essentially shuts down all non-essential functions (or so it thinks). Symptoms of TSS include high fever, low blood pressure, inflammation and redness of the skin, rashes, tiredness, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, kidney failure, liver inflammation, confusion, dizziness, neurological symptoms; basically everything goes to shit. The thing that kills most people with TSS is the drop in blood pressure which means the heart and lungs stop working. In the initial stages of TSS it sort of seems like a flu, but it gets worse and worse and has no respiratory symptoms.

And you may think “Oh, that’s just scaremongering, people don’t get TSS, I leave my tampon in for hours overnight and I’ve never had it!” But I, me, this author typing right now, I have known one person who has actually had TSS. She had to go into hospital, spent a week vomiting, a bunch of her hair fell out, sheets of her skin on her hands and feet were coming off, and she couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs. So yeah, TSS is no joke.

If you suspect you have TSS, go to the emergency room. This is not a drill, this is not something that can be fixed with some oral antibiotics, this is not gonna get better on it’s own. Go directly to jail, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

TSS is not contagious, and using tampons isn’t the only way to get it, it’s just the most common. Some women can leave their tampons in for 12 hours without getting TSS, some for only a couple of hours and they might get it. It’s rare but dangerous. So do me a favour; change your tampon regularly just in case? Don’t take the risk.

You know what, just keeping on this women’s health train, I’ma talk about contraception next. We all gotta know about it, dudes included.

Thanks for reading about periods and vaginas and stuff! GET LEARNED!

Vaccination Frustration due to Misinformation

It has taken a good minute for my blood to cool enough to be able to write this post. Anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about public health and disease prevention, and they also know I don’t suffer fools easily. Which has made the recent flare-up in the vaccines debate all the more frustrating to me. I didn’t even want to write this post; in my first discussion of vaccines I focused on the science behind them, not wanting to waste my breath on the ridiculous falsified data and media hype around vaccination. But here we are. Misinformation, paranoia, fear mongering and downright ignorance have been key factors in allowing this debate to even become an issue, so lets get informed.

First off, we’ll start with what caused the debate to get heated again. A film was made called VAXXED: FROM COVER UP TO CATASTROPHE. It’s directed by “Doctor” Andrew Wakefield. The same Andrew Wakefield who falsified data linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, and hence got disbarred from practicing medicine. The film alleges that the Center for Disease Control in the USA omitted data linking the MMR vaccine to autism, calling it “the most catastrophic epidemic of our time.”

Right, to start off with, the film VAXXED is directed by and entirely reliant on the word of Andrew Wakefield, a man who hasn’t been allowed to practice medicine in the UK since he was disbarred in 2010. He also is not allowed to get a license to practice in the USA, where he now lives. Also, he is not a trained immunologist, vaccinologist, bacteriologist, virologist or even a clinical infectious disease physician, he is (was) a gastroenterologist. He looked at guts. That’s like saying a computer engineer could also fix a car with that training, because they’re both machines. He has been proven to be a liar, a bad scientist, and a fear-monger. No one in the medical profession believes his claims. If your car broke down, and 100 mechanics looked at it, would you believe the 99 who said “it’s the engine” or the one who said “it’s the brake?”

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Andrew Wankfield: A portrait.

And just to make you sure he’s a bullshitting charlatan, here’s everything wrong with his research paper from 1998. To start with, it’s been redacted by The Lancet. It has since been proven that he falsified the data. The study was undertaken by an inflammatory bowel disease research group, who are not experts on vaccination nor autism. Only 12 children were studied, 11 of whom were boys. 12 is not a very big sample size at all, and the gender imbalance already throws up warning flags. If all children are getting vaccinated equally, and 50% of children are boys and 50% girls, in order for the study to properly replicate the population, they should have 50% boys and 50% girls in the study. Fact: more boys have autism than girls, and this is proven to be a genetic factor. How convenient for Wankfield’s study that it had more boys that girls. (P.S. at this point I’m on sentence two of the paper. Yikes.) The children who were studied were referred to the gastroenterology department because of abdominal pain and diarrhoea. The developmental delay some of them experienced was noticed later. The symptoms of the supposed autism included self-injury, disinterest in play, repetitive behaviour, and gaze avoidance. These “symptoms” were all observed in children from 12 months to 21 months of age. One could quite confidently argue that these are not symptoms of autism, but symptoms of being a one year old. Normal. To cap it all off, this is a direct quote from that 1998 paper.

“We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described [autism].”

Lol.

Now a big issue I have with this movement is calling it “the most catastrophic epidemic of our time.” To begin with, an epidemic is defined as a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. Autism isn’t an infectious disease, so there’s some incorrect science for you right in the blurb of the film, let alone in the actual footage. But, to call autism a “catastrophic epidemic” is, I think, a huge insult to those people who are diagnosed as having autism. Autism is on a spectrum, people can be “mildly” autistic and have some issues, others can be severely autistic which can manifest in non-verbalisation, child-like behaviour, reliance on parents etc. Yes, autism is incredibly hard to deal with, but how insulting is it to those people who have dealt with autism all their lives to call them part of a “catastrophic epidemic”!? People with autism can be incredibly intelligent, have exceptional memory, be honest, hard working, straight forward, non-judgemental, passionate, funny, and kind. I don’t know about you, but those are traits I’d love for my child to have.

Regardless of the question “does the MMR vaccine cause autism,” (WHICH IT DOESN’T) Andrew Wankfield cannot deny that the MMR vaccine protects children against the deadly diseases that are measles, mumps, and rubella.

In fact, here is a nice graph from the WHO vaccine preventable diseases monitoring system which tells us how measles rates have changed with the introduction of the vaccine.

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I don’t know about you, but that looks like a pretty significant drop to me! And this is probably a difficult question, but would you rather your child die from one of three preventable diseases, or display autistic traits? I am not a mother, but I think autism is a far better option, so if getting the vaccine might cause my child to get autism (WHICH IT DOESN’T), I’d take the risk.

Right, now the autism stuff is out of the way, let’s discuss the other antivax ideas.

 

  1. You can’t trust big pharmaceutical companies. Look, I am not denying that corporate greed is an issue. Some people are evil and will do anything to get your money. But, most people are good. Most people care about humanity. Most people will do anything to help. Many people have dedicated their lives to helping rid the world of vaccine-preventable diseases. To say you can’t trust a whole industry because of the greed of a few select people breaks down the foundations of the society we are living in today. Also, hand back your vitamins, your paracetamol, you antibiotics, you antidepressants, your insulin, your antihistamines, your inhaler, and your birth control. That’s all big pharma baby.
  2. Vaccines are loaded with heavy chemicals and metals. This is the standard argument from the organic-eating toxin-removing freegan gluten-free GMO-free homemade-soap-using herbalists that has time and time again been broken down, to prove that the “heavy chemicals and metals” make the vaccine work better and are not harmful to humans. A big one they discuss is formaldehyde, which is used to embalm bodies. Did you know that formaldehyde is also produced by your own metabolism? In higher quantities every day than are in a vaccine? And “metals” like mercury and aluminium are not toxic to humans unless at high doses, which they aren’t in vaccines. Also, remember that great organ you have called your liver? The magic detoxifier, it’ll clean all that stuff right up.
  3. Vaccinated children are the most unhealthy, chronically sick children. Yeah. All the other children are dead from vaccine-preventable diseases, so they can’t get chronically ill. They are dead.
  4. Some vaccines have been removed from the market, proving they weren’t safe. Here’s the great thing about science; we are always learning. Scientists are constantly gathering data, trying new things, tweaking and editing in order to produce the best results at the lowest possible cost. Yes some vaccines have been taken off the market; to replace them with better more effective cheaper less risky options.

Okay. Okay I think I’m done. Man. I full on word vomited there didn’t I? I’m just very passionate about not being an idiot. Vaccination is an incredibly powerful tool. I implore you to listen, think critically, and believe in evidence.

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Photo credit: L D May

Thanks for reading folks. Please stay tuned for next post where I will call other people out on their bullshit and probably get pissed off again. GET LEARNED!

Train to Infection Town, Next Stop: Sepsis Station

I promised I’d tell you what scary sepsis is, so here I am to learn you about possibly the worst thing that can happen from an infection. *storm clouds cross the sky and hand sanitiser appears in the middle distance*

Sepsis is when your body responds to infection in such a way that it actually causes injury to the tissues and organs. It is a complication of an infection. Sepsis doesn’t discriminate; the primary infection can be anywhere, with anything. Most commonly it’s a bacterial infection in the lung, abdomen, kidney, or urinary tract. And it is bad. Sepsis is generalised, hard to diagnose, rare, and very very fatal. It can happen to anyone, but it is more common in those with pre-existing immune conditions like diabetes, or cancer, or patients who have seen major trauma, like burns. This isn’t having a flu kind of sick, this is Greys Anatomy tubes sticking out crash cart defib kinda sick.

Symptoms of sepsis are increased heart rate, fever, increased breath rate, and confusion. Which are super general symptoms and pretty hard to diagnose, but early diagnosis of sepsis is the key. Sepsis goes up in steps, from sepsis, to severe sepsis, to septic shock (which is caused by low blood pressure), to multi organ dysfunction syndrome. Sepsis has a 30% mortality rate, severe sepsis has a 50% mortality rate, and septic shock – 80%. This some serious shit.

Treatment involves admission into the ICU, antibiotics, IV fluids, and sometimes various aspects of life support for organs that are failing e.g. dialysis for failing kidneys, mechanical ventilation for failing lungs.

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I know someone who got sepsis. The above chart indicates how many organ systems have failed and on what day of illness, and those correlate to a mortality rate. The person I know who got sepsis was one of my lecturers, and he was off the scale on both ends of this chart. He didn’t die though (obviously), luck was on his side that day. And good medicine.

I don’t want you to be scared of sepsis and think you have it every time you get a cold, but it is important for people to know about it so that they can recognise the symptoms and get admitted quicker. As is clear from the above chart, the earlier the illness is caught, the better the chances are of recovery. So now you know what to look out for!

Keeping in the ~body responds inappropriately to infection~ vein, I’m gonna chat to you next about toxic shock syndrome! Stay tuned and GET LEARNED!

 

Chop chop knife drop bleeds lots blood clot

So last night, just as I had turned the light off to go to sleep, I heard a light tap tap tap on my bedroom door. It was my flatmate, on the phone to my lovely friend, let’s call her “Becky”. So Becky had tried to call me, but I hadn’t picked up. Apparently Becky had dropped a knife on her finger while cooking and was concerned about infection. In true student style, she’d doused the wound in vodka, and was ringing her favorite microbiologist to ask what else she should do. So Becky, this post is for you.

Let’s start from the beginning. You drop a knife on your finger (idiot). It breaks a blood vessel, and you start bleeding. What happens then?

Well, first thing is first, that blood vessel will spasm and close up a bit, using the muscle around the vessel. Next, chemicals released from the injured cells will recruit a cool part of your blood to the site, called platelets. Platelets form a kind of plug or clot, to stop blood loss. The final step is converting a protein in your blood called fibrinogen to fibrin which basically acts like a mesh and traps more platelets, forming the final clot. Think of it like this, you’ve got a bath full of water. The plug gets accidentally pulled out, and suddenly all the water starts draining from your lovely fragrant bath. But yay, you put flower petals in the bath to make it more romantic, and all those rush to the plughole and clog it up; less water drains (these are the platelets). Also, you washed your long hair and there are strands of it getting tangled up in the plughole stopping it from draining (fibrin). Success, you save most of the bathwater and get to enjoy your soak.

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In terms of what you should do while your body plugs it all up, apply pressure to the wound (to hold the blood in) and if possible, elevate it. This basically uses gravity to make it harder for the blood to escape. Logic. If you can’t get the wound to stop bleeding, or it’s on a part of your body that moves lots or has a major vessel, you might need to get stitches. If the blood looks bright red, this means you’ve hit an artery full of lovely oxygenate blood. If its dark and kinda blue looking, it means you’ve hit a vein which was transporting deoxygenated blood back to the lungs to get reoxygenated.

*So my cut finger has stopped bleeding, great. But Tara, what about infection?!*

Well my uncoordinated and probably still hungry friend, you’re right to be concerned. Bacteria live aaaaaaaaall over your skin, and usually that’s fine, but if one gets into your nice warm wet (moist) wound it can cause infection which ain’t what we want. So what do you do?

First thing is first, you can wash and disinfect the area. There are a myriad of  disinfectants you can use. Dettol is a good one, if you have an alcohol wipe or an iodine wipe that’s good too. If you’re desperate and living in a student flat where the most abundant resource is alcohol, that will do too, in a pinch. Just make sure it’s a white spirit, like vodka or gin. Anything else will have sugar in it which will actually promote bacterial growth. Once it’s been disinfected, pop a plaster or gauze or something on the wound and leave it there for a bit, but not forever. An issue that you’ve probably seen if you have accidentally chopped a finger is that once you’ve had the plaster on for a while the skin underneath kinda goes all wrinkly and wet and pale? Yeah, this is what happens when you don’t get air to the wound. Make sure to alternate keeping the wound covered and giving it time to breathe.

On that note, there are three things bacteria LOVE when they are trying to grow. Give them a warm home, lots of moisture and some sugar, and they will be happy as Larry. So keep your wound clean and dry and you should be fine.

If you’re still worried about infection, the things you should look for are as follows.

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This real clever guy called Celcus identified these signs as signs of inflammation, which could indicate infection. They are (in Latin) calor, rubor, tumor, dolor. In English, that’s heat, redness, swelling, and pain. If you notice these signs, hit the wound with some more alcohol disinfectant, and if you’re super worried, go to the doctor. Other things to look for are smells coming from the wound, and excess pus. Some pus is normal, cos all pus is is dead cells from the immune system which have cleaned up the wound and died, but too much pus might indicate that the wound isn’t healing. Tbh better safe than sorry, if it’s not healing go to the doctor. Cos if you’re sorry, you might get sepsis. Which is what the next post will be about.

Thanks for reading guys, I hope this was helpful! Tune in next time, and GET LEARNED!

Gluten Tag Mein Herr

Hey ya’ll, it’s me! Lets talk about gluten.

These days, there is somewhat of a craze surrounding food being “gluten free.” But why?

First, lets start with what gluten is. Gluten is basically a big molecule with lots of proteins stuck together. It is found in wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc. Basically all the things that make bread. In fact it is used in making bread because the gluten molecule is quite elastic, which makes dough stick together and bread bake into those nice wee loaves we all love.

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But why are some people “free” of it? Well gluten has been shown to be the cause of coeliac disease. So coeliac (or celiac depending on how American you are) disease is an auto-immune condition where your immune system responds to the gluten in food and creates an inflammatory response. Woo! Like diabetes! Immune friends! Coeliac disease is chronic (you have it forever) and is mainly focused on the intestines, not exclusively though. Here’s the kicker though, it can be asymptomatic, so people who have it may not realise for a long time. Approx 1-2% of the population have coeliac disease, which is pretty small, but since it can be hard to recognise, there may be undiagnosed people floating about. Symptoms of coeliac disease include chronic diarrhoea, bloating (basically a rounded tummy), weight loss due to malabsorbtion of nutrients, loss of appetite, and impaired growth. It can also be associated with other autoimmune diseases…. (fun fact: autoimmune disease tend to come in threes – I have two so far…. lets see how we go!)

So coeliac disease is pretty shitty, it can be painful and uncomfortable for those who suffer from it. BUT. People who have coeliac have a severe immune response to it. There’s another type of disease to do with gluten, which is called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) which is NOT an immune response. In fact, we don’t know what causes it. But symptoms are similar to those of coeliac disease (grumpy tum). The symptoms are relieved when the person switches to a gluten free diet. So that’s cool, but it’s a pretty new disease. In fact it’s only been recognised since 2010, but it seems to be pretty common (6-10% of people). This is what someone is experiencing if they say they are “gluten intolerant.” Gluten intolerant is not coeliac.

The final disease associated with gluten is just a straight up allergy, like one might have in response to pollen or peanuts or bullshit. Symptoms can be similar to those described above, but they can also include anaphylaxis, which we talked about in the allergies post.

But look, it’s becoming a bit of a trend to be “gluten free.” People for some reason think it’s healthier not to eat gluten. But this isn’t strictly true. If you have one of the above diseases then hell yeah, don’t go near that gluten. But for someone without those issues, cutting out gluten from your diet won’t do anything for your health. In fact it could actually harm you. Studies have shown that “gluten free” diets are lacking in fibre, vitamins and minerals.” So unless you’re one of the 1-2% of coeliacs or 6-10% of gluten intolerant people, just buy the normal bread, it’s cheaper anyway. (On that note, the fact that there is high demand for gluten free products from the general public is causing an increase in price of those products, which sucks for those who actually need it. Don’t add to the problem.)

So there you go, the goods on gluten. Enjoy it if you can! Thanks for reading friends, stay tuned and GET LEARNED!

 

 

 

Update to Antibiotic Answers

Do you know what’s great, friends. I have a wonderful friend who is a pharmacist who told me about a bad thing that I missed out in my antibiotic answers post!

Here’s what she said about drinking on antibiotics;

“Metronidazole is an exception. Check out the disulfram like reaction some time. Even one glass of alcohol while taking it, and for 48 hours after can make you projectile vomit so for obvious reasons quite important people don’t drink while taking it.”

There you go friends, I got learned, you got learned, we all got learned! Thanks Kitty 🙂

Antioxidants

Most mornings, I have a smoothie for breakfast. This isn’t because it’s good for me, or because I’m a health nut. It’s because I’m trying to spend as much time in bed as possible before having to get up, and I can take my smoothie with me to work. To heighten my laziness, I bought this pack which was like a smoothie making pack with bananas and flax seed and almonds and stuff in it, so I could just dump that in the blender and be done with it. But on the front of this packet it said “full of antioxidants!” and I was like, oh, there’s a blog post in there.

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What is an antioxidant? What is an oxidant? Why do I want to get rid of them? Okay, to talk about antioxidants, lets figure out what oxidants are first.

So you know that humans breathe oxygen. Oxygen is a really reactive molecule… but what does that even mean? Right, reactive molecules are ones that, when they bump into other molecules, can cause change in those other molecules. Which is necessary sometimes, and not so good other times. Oxygen does this thing in the body where it reacts with other molecules and produces reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals.

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These ROS and free radicals are basically super reactive molecules which start chain reactions and cause oxidation of proteins and DNA which is bad and makes them stop working. So we would like to avoid that. A free radical is a molecule which has an unpaired valence electron. In English, it basically has a magnet on the outside of it which is super super strong and looking for a fridge to stick to. It is so strong in fact that it can rip off the fridge door. Then the fridge won’t do its job of cooling food.

The body has ways to combat oxidation; shitloads of them in fact. Antioxidants are one of them. An antioxidant we have already spoken about is vitamin C. Basically, the role of an antioxidant is to stop oxidation. Which is kinda inherent in the name. What it actually does is neutralises the oxidant and stops it doing damage in the cells.

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Yay great, I should have lots of antioxidant rich foods in order to stop cell damage, and then I’ll live forever.

Sadly no. A massive analysis of a bunch of antioxidant supplementation studies actually concluded that supplementing antioxidants such as beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E actually had no benefit on health, and oversupplementation actually increased mortality.

But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you can’t eat yummy foods rich in antioxidants like blueberries, it just means its not so much of a selling point anymore. Don’t freak, just do you and let your body deal with the pesky free radicals. Tune in next time for some cool info on being sad… 🙂 Stay tuned and GET LEARNED!

Reference for the nerds:

http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1738879

 

 

 

 

Kevin the Antibiotic Resistant Asshole

Okay buds, let me take you back in time. It’s 1874, you’re a down-on-your-luck prostitute living in the slums of London. Hey great, you find a john and get paid some coin, time for a big old bottle of gin! But shit, you’ve caught syphilis. Two weeks later, you’re dead.

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This is kinda what the bug that causes syphilis looks like except less anthropomorphised.

… moving forward in time, it’s now 1944, you’re a British soldier stationed on the front lines of Normandy in the middle of a bloody war. You get shot in the leg by a rouge bullet and are carried to a medical tent. You see your life flashing before your eyes, your young son at home, your lovely wife Betty about to be widowed… you know it’s not going to be the shot that kills you, but the raging infection that happens in the weeks after. But wait, what is this white powder the medic is sprinkling on your wound? Why, it’s penicillin, wonder drug of WW2, greatly reducing death due to infection in soldiers. You don’t get an infection, you win the war and get to see your son grow up to be acclaimed song writer and activist, John Lennon. The End.

Heartwarming, isn’t it? Antibiotics have absolutely changed the world since their discovery in the 1940s. Mortality rates due to surgery and infection used to be huge, but now it’s barely even a thought. Which has now become its own problem.

We talked about how antibiotics target growth and metabolism of bacteria in the last post, right? And also about how bacteria like E. coli multiply at crazy rates? So during that multiplication, mutations can happen in the genes of the bacteria. Think of it like this; you have to write “I will not sit on tables” a hundred times in detention because you were naughty. You get to line 87, and because you’re so bored you accidentally write “I will not shit on tables.” You get another detention.

That’s what happens with bacteria, a small change in the genes changes their function slightly. This can be bad, and cause the bacteria to die, or it can be good. This small change might render the antibiotic that is being used to treat the infection useless. Then what? Okay, we have a bug that is born with a slight mutation, lets say his name is Kevin. Kevin’s mutation makes him resistant to penicillin. All his brothers are sisters are still susceptible. Penicillin gets in to the system, and all Kevin’s brothers and sisters die, but Kevin is left alive. Now Kevin has all the space, nutrients and resources to grow and multiply, and make lots of new Kevins, who are all resistant to penicillin. You’re still infected, and now you have to use a different antibiotic which will work against Kevin. Bloody Kevin.

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Hold on! In the immortal words of Suzanne Paul, “but wait, there’s more!” Kevin is a friendly bug, and he likes to share. So what happens is, when Kevin comes across another bug that DOESN’T have the resistance genes against penicillin, Kevin shares them with his new friend. Now we have even more bugs who will be resistant to treatment with penicillin.

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Kevin and his friends make up a new problem we are facing in medicine today, called antibiotic resistance, or superbugs. These bugs are no longer susceptible to treatment with traditional antibiotics. So okay, shall we find a new one? Minor problem. We haven’t found a new class of antibiotics since 1987.

So how did it even become a problem? Well basically, after antibiotics became available, docs started prescribing them left right and center. They’re even put into animal feed as a matter of course. The more antibiotics you use which kill the non-resistant bugs, the more room for the resistant bugs to grow and flourish. This is why some doctors are hesitant to prescribe antibiotics unless they’re sure you’re infected.

Also, get ready to be scarred for life. If you take antibiotics when you don’t need them, you might get an infection.

*Tara you crazy scientist, antibiotics stop infection, don’t start it! Duh!*

Ah my colonized clever friend, you are aware that you have microbes in your gut that are beneficial? There are also a couple of bugs in there that might be bad, but they can’t grow very much because the other bugs that are good keep them at bay. But, if you take antibiotics when you don’t need them, you might accidentally kill those good bugs, and give the bad bugs room to grow. The bad bug is called Clostridium difficile. If C. diff grows, too much you get symptoms like stomach cramps and frequent watery diarrhea. Yucky. But here’s the real gross bit. The way you fix C. diff is by putting the good bacteria back into your gut. You want to put a family of microbes back in that are as similar to what you used to have as possible. Diet greatly influences the types of bugs in your gut. People you live with have similar diets to you. The community of good bacteria are also in your poop. And the poop of the people you live with. Do you see where I am going with this. The way to put the good bacteria back into your gut is to get your family member to poop into a bag, then the poop gets put back in your gut through your nasal passages. It’s called a fecal transplant. It’s gross gross gross gross gross and easily avoidable. Don’t take antibiotics if you don’t need them.

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For sure the weirdest drawing I’ve done for this blog.

Okay on that note, this brings me to the end of antibiotics! I hope you got a bit more learned about Kevin and poop, tune in next time when I’ll be discussing yoga, veganism, backpacking through South-East Asia and antioxidants. (Okay, it’s just gonna be antioxidants.) See you next time, GET LEARNED!

Antibiotic Answers

Hey so we’ve talked about this, kinda, but since I started this blog I’ve had two friends message me on Facebook saying, “Hey T, I have an antibiotic question: why can’t I get boozed while taking them?” Considering that a full half of my friends asked, I thought I’d answer it for all you wondering. (Yes that was a self-deprecating joke about me having four friends in total.) So pop that amoxicillin, put down that vodka cruiser, and strap on in to learn about antibiotics!

We’ll say it all together because we already know this, ANTIBIOTICS DON’T WORK ON VIRUSES. Great, glad you remembered. If you have a bacterial infection, antibiotics might help get rid of it. If you have a fungal infection, antifungals might help get rid of it. If you have a viral infection, it’s either tough titties or antivirals in some cases.

So what do antibiotics actually do?

Well, there are a bunch of different classes of antibiotics, which all do different things. But essentially, they all function to mess with bacterial growth or metabolism.

Here’s a thing. You’ve heard of E. coli the poster child for bacteria the world around? Okay well it takes 20 minutes for one E. coli cell to turn into two E. coli cells. But for a bug like M. tuberculosis, the bug that causes (shocker) tuberculosis, it takes at least 15 hours to go from one bug to two. So in the time it takes to get four TB bugs, there will be 302231454903657000000000 E. coli bugs.
growth.png Since antibiotics work to interfere with growth and metabolism, they don’t work so good when it takes an age to grow. You get me? So people who have TB have to be on antibiotics for a really really really long time in order to kill the cells.

So yeah, antibiotics work during cell growth and metabolism. But hold up, I have cells. I grow. And I metabolise. How come when I take antibiotics I don’t kill my own cells in the process?

Excellent question my logical and diseased friend, the answer is; it’s all about the target. We’ve discussed that bacteria are pretty different to human cells. So if we use antibiotics that target things that are only in bacteria, they’ll have no effect on human cells. Here’s an example; good old penicillin. You’ve heard of it, you’ve probably taken it, there are a bunch of different forms of it, it was one of the first antibiotics ever used. But what does it actually do?

Well, bacteria have a thing called a cell wall, which essentially holds all the bacterial gunk in. Think of it like a tightly weaved basket. What penicillin does is it comes in and prevents the basket from being weaved properly, resulting in holes in the basket, and the gunk dribbles out. Since human cells don’t have a cell wall, it doesn’t have any effect on our cells. Yay!

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*But Tara, get to the real crux of the matter; it’s my flatmates 21st and I wanna get blotto, but this STI is really giving me grief and I don’t want to mess with antibiotics that I’m on. What should I do!?*

Okay, the answer here is two-fold. Listen up.

  1. Side effects from a lot of antibiotics can include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Sadly, those are also some of the side effects of excessive alcohol consumption, along with bad decision making and regrettable texting incidents. So drinking while on antibiotics could make you feel sicker.
  2. This is probably the answer you’re looking for. ‘Member how we talked about the liver and how it works to process toxins like alcohol? Well the liver is also the space where your antibiotics get metabolised to their active form to work to kill the bugs. If your liver is too busy processing that Long Island iced tea, it won’t be able to process the antibiotic. This could lead to a couple of things; you just peeing out the antibiotic and it not working to help get rid of that unsightly rash, or the antibiotic sticking around in your system for too long and making you feel sick.

So yeah, the gist is, probably don’t get wastey while on antibiotics. But like, a single glass of champagne probably won’t mess things up too much, just don’t go nuts.

As I was writing this post there were like a million things in my mind to talk about, and you know me, I don’t know when to stop! So in the next post I’m gonna learn you some more about antibiotics, and talk about antibiotic resistance. Uh oh. Stay tuned and GET LEARNED!

Cholesterol schmelesterol

You may have heard of people having high cholesterol, and this is usually said in an ominous tone by an old doctor in a lab coat followed by some words like “obesity, diabetes, decreased life expectancy” and  “heart attack….” but what is cholesterol, and why do I have it?

Lets start with the basics, cholesterol is a molecule. It is a fat molecule, and also an alcohol molecule. Also, it is very very very necessary because it’s super important in making sure your cells stay solid. If you imagine each of your cells as a house, cholesterol  molecules are the concrete pillars making sure the walls and roof don’t collapse. It’s also really important in a bunch of other reactions, and your body has the ability to make it. Yay!

plbl
Super zoom in on the cell membrane that stops you from being goop in a skin sack.

Here’s the kicker, not only do humans use cholesterol in our cell membranes, so do all other animals, and it helps keep their cells solid too. Yes indeedy, that fatty piece of steak you had for tea last night, that was full of cholesterol. So not only do we make it, but we also eat it. Because of this, sometimes you can have too much.

Now here’s a thing that I said before, cholesterol is a fat. Have you every tried to mix oil and water? No go. In this case, your blood is the water and the cholesterol is the oil. So in order for cholesterol to get transported around the body via the bloodstream, it binds to these fun things called lipoproteins. For the sake of keeping things simple, there are two types of lipoprotein. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). The density refers to the ratio of protein to cholesterol. Anyway that’s not important, moving on.

LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol to have. You may have heard of this, good and bad cholesterol? Yeah it’s not the cholesterol that’s good or bad, it’s the way they’re carried in the blood. High levels of LDL in the blood have been shown to increase a fun word called atheroschlerosis. In English, it gunks up your arteries and makes them all clogged, so blood can’t flow through as well, which is what causes heart attacks. On the flip side, HDL actually removes cholesterol from the gunk, so is kinda protective against heart attacks.

So if you go to the doctor and get your cholesterol measured, they might tell you about your HDL/LDL ratio. More HDL, good. More LDL, bad.

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If your LDL is too high, the doctor might tell you to do some things like EAT BETTER. EAT LESS ANIMAL PRODUCTS. EXERCISE. LOSE WEIGHT. STOP SMOKING. And if the shit really hits the fan, you might have to take some meds called statins, which function to stop you producing cholesterol. That’s a last resort though. Just eat right and that’ll probably be enough, okay?

Yeah, there you go. We got quite sciencey there, fingers crossed I didn’t lose you. I hope you learned something, thanks for reading and stuff, isn’t science fun?! I’m just gonna keep on the small molecules run I’ve been on and talk about antibiotics next. Stay tuned for that, and GET LEARNED!