..... Stumper Index
Stumper #24.
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How Good Is Your Science KQ?

[i.e. your Knowledge Quotient]


- Antiseptics - Germicidals - Antibiotics - ... Boon or Bane?

An average person carries about 100 thousand million microbes (germs) on the outside of his or her body and 15 million million inside. They are on our skin, in our digestive tract, in the air, in soil, and on almost all the things we touch every day. Most are harmless. Many are helpful because they occupy ecological niches (within our bodies or in the environment) that could otherwise be occupied by harmful organisms. The helpful organisms keep the harmful ones in check.
The Problem:
When harmful bacteria manage to achieve the upperhand and overwhelm a body's natural defense systems, infections and illnesses result.
The Solution:
Historically speaking, we first needed to recognize that germs exist. Then, of course, we had to look for ways to eliminate or destroy them. In the first century BC, the Roman writer Varro speculated that people became ill from breathing-in small animals. In 1674 Anton Leeuwenhoek reported seeing 'animalcules' under his hand-ground, 270x magnification, microscope lens. Much later, in 1857, Louis Pasteur put forth a 'germ theory' of disease which was augmented in 1879 by Robert Koch. In 1928 Alexander Fleming made the observation in his laboratory which led to the discovery of penicillin as an antibiotic - a naturally occuring destroyer of germs. Then, between 1928 and 1965, more than 25 thousand antibiotics were developed. Of these, about 100 are now in worldwide use.
The New Problem:
The use of antibiotics to treat human infections, and their use in plant and animal farming to prevent infection as well as to treat disease, has been revolutionary. However, as antibiotics have become more widely used, resistant strains of both harmful and harmless bacteria are replacing the ones susceptible to antibiotics. The almost universal presence of antibiotics has upset the balance between antibiotic-susceptible and antibiotic-resistant bacteria worldwide. As resistant strains become more widespread, more and more antibiotics will cease to be effective tools.
The Question: What can we, as individuals, do about this?

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