By Dr. David Lewis | TLB Science Advisor
Unless we dramatically curb the rise of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, antibiotics will become virtually useless. Personally, I’m already using heat to keep minor infections from spreading and posing a threat. Pathogens tend to adapt to the normal body temperatures of the animals they typically infect. Humans, for example, don’t transmit a lot of different infectious agents to birds, in part, because birds have slightly higher body temperatures.
Applying heat to localized infections can often eliminate them before they can spread. With minor skin infections, for example, I set my wife’s hairdryer on low and warm the area for several minutes. I keep it about as hot as I can comfortably stand, while avoiding raised moles, which can burn easily.
Mouth ulcers disappear within hours, I found, when caught early. I repeatedly heat them with a cue tip dipped in water about the temperature of hot coffee. Fever blisters also respond well to hot air. Even the pain of fire ant bites permanently disappears within minutes under a stream of tolerably hot water; and they seldom if ever fester.
I always seek immediate medical attention, however, whenever infections begin to spread. High fevers and red streaks coming from an infected area are important warning signs. Delaying medical treatment, even for a few hours, can lead to tragic consequences, even death, especially when a high fever develops. It indicates the infection is spreading in the bloodstream.
A leading source of antibiotic resistance is rooted in EPA’s 503 sludge rule, which allows municipalities to dispose of hazardous chemical and biological wastes in sewers. Treated sewage sludges, a.k.a. biosolids, are applied to farms, forests, school playgrounds and other public and private lands, spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria far and wide. They contain every antibiotic in use, plus heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals that promote antibiotic resistance.
At sewage treatment plants, antibiotics mix with Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, salmonella and a host of other human pathogens, which are rapidly becoming resistant to multiple antibiotics. Just adding lime, which is how most biosolids are made, doesn’t destroy most pathogens. Moreover, bacteria proliferate after biosolids are spread on land, creating new antibiotic-resistant strains that contaminate our water supplies, and are carried by wind over great distances trapped in dust particles.
The solution is simple. A combination of high temperature, pressure and alkalinity (pH) can break down antibiotics and other harmful chemicals. It also generates ammonia gas, which can be converted to nitrate fertilizer and added back to the cooked sludge. This simple process could eliminate most of the adverse health effects associated with pathogens and hazardous chemicals in sewage sludge. Unfortunately, while federal agencies bury us in needless regulations, they often cave in to political pressure when it comes to changing industry practices to prevent problems such as antibiotic resistance.
David Lewis, Ph.D.
Former U.S. EPA Research Microbiologist
David Lewis is an internationally recognized research microbiologist whose work on public health and environmental issues, as a senior-level Research Microbiologist in EPA’s Office of Research & Development and member of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia, has been reported in numerous news articles and documentaries from TIME magazine and Reader’s Digest to National Geographic.
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