Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Glass Eye Pines
by Michael Hodges

Moving the Floral Sea
by Anne E. Johnson

Bounty Call
by Curtis C. Chen

by David Barber

Captain Quasar and the Fur Traders
by Milo James Fowler

Under a Steel Sky
by James Mapes

We Are Parts
by Matt Zandstra

A Repeating Pattern
by Michael McGlade

Shorter Stories

You Can Pay Me Now ...
by Arthur Carey

by Robin Wyatt Dunn

by M.E. Garber


Lysol Kills!
by John McCormick

Our Earth is Two Billion Years Old
by Thomas Elway



Comic Strips




Lysol Kills!

By John McCormick

DRUG-RESISTANT INFECTIONS ARE a relatively new and an extremely worrying medical concern, enough so that The White House is asking for a special $1.2 billion funding for 2016 targeted just at monitoring and fighting these infections.

But we already have a pretty good idea of what causes drug resistance and are doing little or nothing about it.

Do you have a child with asthma or do you or friends have the condition?

Did you (or they) fall for all the TV ads encouraging you to clean with antibacterial soaps or chlorine-based cleansers so you can routinely kill 99.9 percent (so the label and ads say) of ordinary germs encountered in everyday life on planet Earth and therefore presumably the gift of Gaia that oversaw the development of our species?

There is a gigantic difference between deadly infections and the ordinary germs we all encounter in the everyday environment and therein lies the problem. If you kill 99.9 percent of the ordinary germs, you leave the 0.1 percent of the ones that are obviously the most difficult to kill—so we are working hard to generate really dangerous germs that can’t be killed by ordinary means.

Doing this enough times—for example, three or four times every day by a hundred million cleanliness obsessed homeowners—we encourage the most dangerous germs to multiply and essentially take over the microbial environment.

Now add into the mix children growing up in these extreme environments, their bodies at the same time trying to develop immune systems that recognize bad infections from the ones that are not dangerous and can be safely ignored.

This is the basis of the hygiene hypothesis: the scientific proposition that by trying overly hard to protect our children from microbes we do two really bad things.

First, we keep our kids in a cleanliness bubble that prevents their immune systems from developing normally; second, we kill off all the mild and innocuous germs, leaving alive the really dangerous bugs, the tough ones not affected by ordinary soap or other anti-microbial agents, to multiply freely.

In recent years, with the advent of and consequent instant promotion through advertising of anti-microbial soaps that are unfortunately also mutagenic, this has become much worse. That is, these soaps not only kill bacteria especially well, but they also cause mutations in the very germs we are trying to kill. The mutations naturally make the new breed of microbes more difficult to kill because only the strongest survive to multiply after each round of attempted sterilization.

Mutagenic chemicals added to virtually all cleaners marketed as “anti-bacterial” go a massive step beyond merely killing the weakest germs. They open up environmental space to the most dangerous because they actively cause the remaining bacteria to mutate.

Using anti-bacterials may be all well and good to kill salmonella on your kitchen counter, but what about when you get a cut or, worse yet, get an infection in a hospital and discover that it is one of the resistant bugs created by overuse of antibiotics and antibacterials?

Plain soap and water are all that is needed to make kitchen surfaces safe.

Antibiotics were a wonderful creation that saved millions upon millions of lives but, after the drug companies geared up to produce massive amounts for those injured in wars, the drugs got so cheap that the industry had to find a way to make money off something that now only cost a few dollars per pound instead of hundreds of dollars per gram.

They quickly realized that ranchers were the perfect market. Giving just a few milligrams of antibiotics to every sheep, pig, or cow being raised on a farm would let them grow about ten percent faster because they would never get the infections so common on farms that slightly slow the growth of animals, although otherwise cause no harm because the animals develop immunity.

Today the result is that antibiotics are routinely given to all farm animals in their commercial feed. In fact, nearly 70 percent (the Centers for Disease Control estimates 80 percent) of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to farmers.

I personally ran an organic ranch that produced fine meat animals and none of them ever got vaccines, or antibiotic feed, nor did they ever get sick. Perhaps they grew a bit slower because, instead of feeding them grains that could go to humans in the form of bread or soy protein, I fed my cattle and sheep grass in the form of pastures, and in the winter hay from similar farms.

The meat you buy in a grocery store is loaded with antibiotics that are assimilated by you and your children. These kill off the vast majority of antibiotic-susceptible bacteria, leaving plenty of room in the ecology for those bugs that are resistant to the standard medical treatments.

Some childrens’ medical advocates point out that young girls can develop breasts and show other signs of puberty at ages incredibly as young as nine-years-old. This is due to the hormones in the fast food so many kids consume on an almost daily basis—half the money spent on food in the U.S. reportedly goes to eating outside the home.

Although the routine use of farm antibiotics does marginally increase the health of the animals, it is not always a good thing for humans. The FDA has been fighting this routine use of vital drugs in cattle dosing since the fall of 2013 to little or no effect.

Farm Kids

About 30 years ago, medical statisticians started to notice that city children seemed to get sick a lot more often than kids raised in the country with dogs, cats, cows, pigs, and other animals.

It is widely known that today’s city kids seem to be subject to many more autoimmune diseases—the most obvious of which to the casual observer is asthma. So medical researchers have been looking for specific triggers in their environments that could explain this dramatic change.

In the past, the first place researchers would look is at the economic status of the most susceptible. Nutrition and living conditions are often associated with a difference in disease occurance. However, the increase in childhood asthma has occurred across socio-economic boundries, found in poor inner-city kids as well as in surburban soccer mom offspring.

There are two ways to approach this sort of research. One is to look for specific causes in the environment of the sick children. So far that search has proven fruitless. The second way to look at this problem is to search for something different in the diet, environment, or early medical treatment of those who don’t develop asthma.

In other words, since they have been unable to find a cause of asthma in the city and surburban environment, researchers turned to the rural environment for something that protects those kids against developing asthma or autoimmune bowel diseases.

All the evidence indicated that kids raised in the cleanest homes—that is, a semi-sterile environment—are statistically more likely to develop asthma.

In other words, children exposed during their early growth to traditional dirty environments, especially those including farm animals, became much healthier adults than children raised in semi-sterile suburbs where they and their environment were flooded daily with antibacterial agents—soap, Lysol spray, chlorine-based cleaners, home steam cleaning, special cleaning devices so heavily advertised that make floors so clean you can’t find a trace of dirt, along with every other device known to the producers of TV commercials to keep children from being exposed to the natural environment in which we evolved for millions of years.

But while you see dozens of ads every evening promoting cleanliness, none of them ever explain just why you would want to keep your home at the same level of cleanliness as a 1950’s operating room.

Nevertheless, marketers and the companies they represent are selling useless, even harmful, substances to the public. If they aren’t harmful, how do you explain the fact that they have worked for thirty years to get people to eliminate microbes from the home, and are now pushing probiotics to cure the problems caused by that very reliance on anti-microbials?

Probiotics are nothing more than the bacteria that the same companies previously sold you an assortment of products to eliminate.

They are selling you cleansers to remove “dirt” from your home environment, then, because this can make you sick, in the very next commercial Jamie Lee Curtis is selling you the very same “dirt” in something you should swallow!

Until very recently, unless you have been in a hospital taking IV antibiotics continuously for several days, it was almost impossible for a normal human to develop bowel problems due to the lack of bacteria which had all been killed off by drugs.

Your digestive system won’t work properly without bacteria.

The fact that this has now become a concern, either real or imagined, can only be due to the vast increase in anti-microbial soaps and antibiotics in the general environment, especially in the very food you eat daily.

You can replace these bacteria yourself by purchasing live yogurts, the kind that you can use as a starter to make more yogurt. And, unless you are constantly bombarded with antibiotics, you only need do this once. These yogurts and probiotic capsules replace the missing bacteria that have been wiped out by an overuse of so many anti-bacterial agents.

While adults can do this and quickly recover from an overly clean environment, children who have now grown up without being exposed to a natural bacteria-rich environment have weak immune systems. They have been deprived of any of the natural triggers that let them develop properly so they can fight infections.

This is equivalent to children who never get any exercise, so their muscles and bones never develop properly.

Not allowing the immune system to react to common infections prevents it from becoming strong enough to protect children later in life. This lack of stimulation also permits the immune system to overreact to changes in the environment.

That is exactly what causes asthma; an immune system that hasn’t encountered hundreds of mild infections isn’t programmed to ignore minor threats and goes crazy trying to fight every chance bacteria or pollen fragment the child inhales.

Some diseases actually kill not because the infection overwhelms the body but because people’s immune systems overreact. (See “Why Does Swine Flu Kill Healthy People?”)

More than twenty European studies of children who grew up on dairy farms show they are far less likely to develop asthma than other kids. According to a recent article in “Science,” this is due to exposure “to molecules from the cell wall of certain bacteria, called lipopolysaccharides for their fat-sugar structure. Also known as endotoxins, these fragments—from dying bacteria in cow manure and fodder—cause a temporary low state of inflammation in the lungs that somehow dampens the immune system’s response to allergens.”

An interesting part of this study revealed that the same material was tested out on rats and confirmed the hygiene hypothesis from a new angle.

The basis of the hygiene hypothesis was that children’s immune systems don’t develop properly so they can’t fight off infections.

It turns out that kids raised on dairy farms don’t just develop an immune response to certain bacteria, but instead they go a step further; by getting used to bacteria fragments in the the air they breathe daily, their systems learn not to respond violently to the ordinarily harmless bacteria and dust that are the same ones which trigger asthma; therefore, they don’t produce the sort of cytokine storm that is actually the cause of asthma, an overreaction to common pathogens and even simple dust in the environment.

Asthma has increased in today’s kids because they are raised in an unnaturally clean bubble so their immune systems are not given the opportunity to develop in an historically normal fashion knowing when to respond with all hands on deck to a dangerous infectious threat and also, just as importantly, knowing when not to overract, triggering asthma and probably a variety of autoimmune diseases.

Dangerous Hospitals

Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI) are particularly nasty bacterial infections. MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, where Methicillin is a powerful last-choice antibiotic of the penicillin class) is now a leading cause of non-traumatic death in U.S. hospitals. The CDC places the death rate from HAI (ones you catch while at a hospital as opposed to an infection that sends you to the hospital) at more than 20,000 cases yearly.

Because these infections are mainly found in hospitals where the environment is by necessity kept as clean as possible through the constant use of hand cleaners and various powerful cleaning agents, the remaining bacteria are the survivors ofsuperbug this constant onslaught of antibacterial agents and are therefore the least susceptible to medicines used to cure infections.

That, in addition to the increase in allergies and autoimmune diseases in the youngest members of society, is another consequence of overuse of antibiotics.

Farm Fears

This really comes home to you if you start raising farm animals. Every farm store sells powerful antibiotics by the pound right on the shelves, not even in a restricted area. In fact, the only ones you can’t just pick off the shelf are the ones that have to be kept refrigerated.

Antibiotics, the use of which requires ten years of schooling and a medical license to give to a human being, can be purchased by a twelve-year-old in any rural community, along with the syringes needed for injection.

Whether you want five-ounce packages of Terramycin or a pint bottle of injectable Procaine Penicillin, it is right there for anyone to buy.

So even if you buy meat from a small farm the chances are that a state agricultural agent has advised them to routinely dose their cattle with antibiotics in their water supply, which means it is also in the meat you buy.

Supermarket beef, as well as what you get in fast food joints and most other restaurants, almost always comes from cattle fattened up in feed lots where they are crowded together in massive pens that are bulldozed occasionally to clear the droppings (and the occasional dead animal).

Being in a very unhealthy environment, such cattle are prone to infections and prophylactically get massive doses of powerful antibiotics right up until the day they are slaughtered, ensuring especially high levels in the meat you consume.

Some poultry operations now advertise that they do not use antibiotics. Having once owned a sheep and cattle ranch (see my book, “Sheep in the Rafters”), I can say that given reasonably hygenic living situations there is virtually no need for antibiotics on a reasonably clean ranch, and certainly no need to routinely dose animals with antibiotics every day. With hundreds of animals, over more than a decade, we never gave any immunizations beyond rabies shots to the dogs, and only once or twice gave antibiotics to sick lambs.

Despite all the medical evidence that it is very bad for human health in general to feed antibiotics to animals, until the practice is banned, there seems little chance that big farm factories will stop; until then we will see an ever-increasing number of infections that defy medical treatment, all just to cut the cost of producing beef and chicken by a penny a pound.

Although eating the meat and drinking the pasteurized milk from U.S. farms is hazardous not just to individuals but the entire ecology, actually living on farms or at least growing up on one is incredibly healthy.

This fact dates back at least to the invention of the first vaccine where doctor Edward Jenner realized that milkmaids often developed the zoonotic (an animal disease transmissible to humans) disease known as cowpox and never seemed to get the deadly smallpox infection.

Cowpox produced symptoms that resembled a very mild case of smallpox. Around 1798, Jenner decided to try taking some of the pus from a cowpox pustule and intentionally infecting a person—who contracted cowpox but never developed smallpox; that was the birth of immunization.

(Some sources say the virus class causing cowpox was probably named the “vaccinia” virus in honor of this vital discovery despite the fact that germ theory hadn’t been developed yet and no virus had been described by 1800. Vaccinus is latin for “of or from cow” making it far more likely both the virus and vaccination were named for their early association with cows.)

Vaccine Controversy and “Leaky” Vaccines

Despite some parental fears and an entire anti-vaccination campaign triggered by a single medical journal story published by a now-disbarred British M.D., vaccines are not only incredibly safe in general but have been thought to play no part in the threat posed by superbugs.

Unlike antibiotics and anti-microbials of all types used in practically everything these days, vaccines don’t directly kill off any bacteria or viruses; instead, they trigger a mild immune response in the body that makes it possible for the human immune system itself to fight off any eventual infection. Any resistance developed would only be in a single individual, not the environment.

The immune system can defeat some of the most dangerous viral and bacterial infections, but a fast-acting infection can overwhelm the body before an unprepared immune system can react, which is why vaccines are needed to prime the immune system.

Vaccines normally work by carrying weakened or dead infectious agents that alert the system to be prepared if it ever encounters such a disease again. That gives the body a jump start, enabling it to defeat a deadly infection before it can cause any damage—before, in fact, we even realize we have been exposed.

Although vaccines have been widely thought to have no affect on the resistance of bugs to treatment, a very recent “Science” article has raised some new concerns that so-called “leaky” vaccines may cause the development of more virulent strains, just like overuse of antibiotics.

Vaccinated chicks exposed to deadlier strains still shed the virus in their dander, spreading it to unvaccinated chicks in their flock. Normally, the deadly strains would have killed the chicks before they could pass it on, but the vaccinated chicks created the perfect source for the transmission of deadlier strains, the researchers found.

According to the “Science” article: “The study is controversial. It was done in chickens, and some scientists say it has little relevance for human vaccination; they worry it will reinforce doubts about the merits or safety of vaccines. It shouldn't, says lead author Andrew Read, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University. The study provides no support whatsoever for the anti-vaccine movement. But it does suggest that some vaccines may have to be monitored more closely, he argues, or supported with extra measures to prevent unintended consequences."

The concern is based on a controversial study of a routine vaccine for chickens to prevent Marek’s disease. This isn’t a zoonotic disease, so it poses no direct threat to humans, but it does constitute the initial evidence that some vaccines could be causing dangerous mutations in viral infections.

Read has also cited reports that Feline caliciviru has been seen to have some variants that are much more virulent; this is possibly caused by routine vaccinations against the disease.

There are currently no so-called “leaky” vaccines in general use for humans; all the ones we normally get are very good at preventing infections by completely eradicating them. But good vaccinations for some diseases, including malaria, HIV, and the yearly flu, have proven very difficult to produce. This has led to a call for anything that is at all effective.

This new evidence of increased virulence in animal diseases, possibly caused by “leaky” vaccines, can be seen as a warning against the fast adoption of what are known to be less than totally effective vaccines against bird flu, malaria, HIV, and other intractable viral infections just because there aren’t enough good vaccines.

How much worse would these already dangerous diseases become if the same thing happens with them as with the animal vaccines? There are currently drugs that treat HIV and malaria or at least mitigate the severity of the infections. Would this be true of mutated versions?

Of concern is that Read’s warnings could be taken as support for anti-vaccinators—another misinterpretation of science that could cause more people to avoid vaccination, something that Reed himself warns against, saying that vaccines are important.

All vaccines are somewhat “leaky.” Every person whose immune system has fought off a disease such as malaria has the same effect on the infection as a “leaky” vaccine—that is, some of the strongest, most virulent material always survives.

(There have been vaccine scares since the very first vaccination. In the early days this was understandable because little was known about the science and mistakes were made, often resulting in people getting the disease they were supposed to be immunized against.)

The most recent scare that has led to so much controversy was caused by a simple case of bad science when a U.K. doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published a totally fraudulent paper in a 1998 issue of “The Lancet,” a respected medical journal. This pseudo-scientific report claimed a link between common childhood measles and mumps vaccinations and autism.

Although completely disproven to the extent that Wakefield had his license pulled and is no longer permitted to practice medicine, parents desperate to find a cause for the often terrible condition of autism have clung to the hypothesis that the condition is caused by a simple vaccination rather than any genetic or personal shortcoming during gestation.

The incidence of autism has increased dramatically in recent years, beginning in about 1990, coincidental with new diagnostic guidelines (and perhaps not so coincidentally with new drugs that are claimed to help in treatment). However, statistical studies have shown that most of the increase can be attributed to increased awareness and changes in diagnosis.

Studies of accumulated medical research has shown that in the cases of nearly 15 million children there has been no link between autism and routine childhood vaccinations.

Doctors and Patients

Another major reason for the overuse of antibiotics in developed countries is that doctors, particularly pediatricians, placate overprotective parents, instead of educating them that the flu and common cold are both viral infections and won’t be affected in the least by penicillin or other drugs, by routinely giving a shot to any child with the sniffles.

Every doctor knows that overprescribing antibiotics is a great threat to human health, but they still do it. They fail to properly educate patients that using anti-microbial soaps and overcleaning is contributing to the problem.

They also fail to sufficiently warn patients who do get antibiotics for real bacterial infections that by not completing their entire dosage prescription they are endangering themselves and others. Many patients stop taking prescriptions as soon as they feel better, often before the infection is entirely cleared up, leaving the toughest bacteria alive and ready to reproduce a more virulent strain.

Bottom Line?

Although it may seem as if this is just another case of everything being bad for you, it really isn’t. The various studies and theories all point to the same thing—namely, that children raised in extremely clean environments do not necessarily develop healthy immune systems. That includes both overcleaning and the overuse of antibiotics in individuals. In general, overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of resistant strains of bacteria and possibly viruses which impacts us all. END

John McCormick is a physicist, science/technology journalist, and author with more than 17,000 bylines to his credit. He is a member of The National Press Club and the AAAS. He recently launched the canine celebrating website, A to Z Dogs.



Other Articles and Books
by John McCormick