Our ancient history
Modern humans are primeval creatures, cloaked in brand name T shirts and tight jeans.
We might sunbake in city parks, work in high rise office buildings and crush into crowded subways at rush hour.
But beneath the earphones playing pop music, homo sapien man is scanning the world, planning how to win to his next battle. Meanwhile homo sapien women is selecting men with good genes to be her next mate.
It’s not just the limbic system in our brains that is hard wired to succeed in the stone aged world.
We are surrounded by an invisible hord of bacteria, viruses, fungus, and parasites. They cover our skin, swarm over the food we eat and swim through our gut.
As we were originally designed to live among them, most will do us no harm. A few are absolutely essential to our well being.
A small number are dedicated to annihilating us.
Luckily, there is another player in this ancient battle.
Our immune system, battle-scarred from centuries of dog fights with viruses and bacterias.
But in today’s world of clean drinking water and sanitized food, our ancient biology often feels left out.
We should pay it the attention it deserves. The way it reacts to what it perceives as being ancient enemies, can eventually kill us. While we are intubated in sterile Intensive Care Units.
Pandemics of the past
At the turn of the 20th century the average world life expectancy was 40. A quarter of all children died in the first year of life, and almost half died before reaching puberty.
Clean drinking water, immunisation programs and penicillin did not exist.
Most people were born and died at home. Children grew up seeing death as a natural part of life. Mothers expected to bury at least some of their own children. Childbirth itself was highly risky, with 1% – 2% of births resulting in death.
On top of this pandemics regularly swept across the world, killing over half of entire populations.
Here is a list of major pandemics that have struck society. It shows you how hard people have struggled, just to survive.
The Antonine Plague 165 and 180 AD. Death toll 5 million.
The Plague of Justinian 541 and 542 AD. Death toll 30 – 40 million.
Japanese Smallpox Epidemic 735 – 737 AD. Death toll 1 million.
The Black Death (bubonic plague) 1347 – 1351 AD. Death toll 200 million.
17th Century Great Plagues 1600 AD. Death toll 3 million.
18th Century Great Plagues 1700 AD. Death toll 600,000.
Cholera 6 outbreak 1817 – 1923 AD. Death toll 1 million.
The Third Plague 1855 AD. Death toll 12 million.
Yellow fever late 1800 AD. Death toll 100,000 – 150,000.
Spanish Flu 1918 – 1919 AD. Death toll 40 – 50 million.
Russian Flu 1889 – 1890 AD. Death toll 1 million.
Asian Flu 1957 – 1958 AD. Death toll 1.1 million.
Hong Kong Flu 1968 – 1970 AD. Death toll 1 million.
SARS 2002 – 2003 AD. Death toll 770.
Swine Flu 2009 – 2010 AD. Death toll 200,000.
MERS 2012 AD – present. Death toll 850.
HIV/AIDS 1981 AD onwards. Death toll 25 – 35 million.
Ebola 2014 – 2016 AD. Death toll 11,300.
Lessons our ancestors learned
Our ancestors learnt the hard way about how to manage pandemics. Without microscopes or modern drugs they came up with the following strategies –
- Quarantine is the restriction of people and goods between countries, until they proved to be free of disease.
- Isolating the sick with their entire families. No one could escape.
- Fast disposal of bodies by dumping corpses in communal graves.
- Culling of animals thought to be involved in spreading infections.
- Disinfection and fumigation using sulphur dioxide fumes, copper sulphate and lime.
What you saw happening in Wuhan China and now across the world in response to Covad 19, is based on the methods our ancestors used to battle disease.
After reading a lot of emotional and unscientific media stories, I wish to make three main points about the Covid 19 pandemic.
1. treating our ancient shadow
Our ancient biology is responsible for keeping us alive over centuries of disease, war and malnutrition. Thank you!
However an inappropriate immune response has been implicated in a growing number of modern diseases. These are as varied as multiple sclerosis, asthma, type 1 diabetes, ARDS (Adult Respiratory Distress Symptom) and septic shock.
Some Doctors treating Covid 19 patients are identifying a cytokine storm (systemic inflammatory response) that leads to an inability to oxygenate the lungs despite modern ventilation, leading to high death rates.
Our archaic bodies were never designed to deal with the modern world. We are don’t even come into contact with the common everyday bacteria, viruses and parasites our ancestors fought off every day. At the same time we are excessively exposed to antibiotics, killing of the helpful bacteria in our guts.
I would like to see ‘treating our ancient bodies’ incorporated into daily life and medical treatments.
Too often I feel we try to cure an invading disease. When in fact we are looking at the side effects of our ancient body or ‘dark shadow’ that has simply gone awry.
Artificial intelligence used to predict which coronavirus patients are at greater risk of ARDS. 6th April 2020, EuroNews.
When coronavirus kills, the lung condition ARDS can be the culprit. Here’s what you need to know. 17th March 2020 The Philadelphia Enquirer
2. making sure doctors are actually in charge of patients!
Would we allow ballet dances to dictate rules on how engineers are allowed to design and build bridges? No?
Then why do we allow career politicians to be in charge of global health organisations?
In America stockbrokers wanting to please their shareholders are put in charge of running hospitals. In countries with public systems, of course it’s the bureaucrats who are in charge.
If we want the best out of healthcare, we need to make sure the right people are actually in charge.
During this pandemic, Doctors are being forced to vent their frustrations about outdated protocols and technology on social media.
They should be allowed to use their clinical judgement to make evidence based decisions based on their patients current conditions.
At present it takes an average of 17 years for innovation to reach the bedside. This is nonsense.
Would you want your life to be in the hands of a frustrated Doctor who is being forced to use outdated equipment and protocoles?
Did you know that healthcare is being tied up with red tape created by people who had never even graduated from Medical School?
3. Redesigning ICU equipment
Every time I hear cries to ‘build more ventilators’ I cringe. It’s the retired ICU nurse in me.
Positive pressure ventilators are over 60 years old. They might have been a great step forward from the old ‘iron lung’ which people’s entire bodies where trapped in.
However iron lungs used negative pressure, which mimicked the bodies own breathing mechanism. Many of the ICU related diseases we see today did not exist when they were in use.
Modern ventilators are known to cause pneumonia in 21 – 22% of ventilated patients. The endotracheal tube is an easy portal for bacteria to enter the lungs. Expelling sputum is virtually impossible and the nurse has to manually suction them out on a regular bases, which is painful, distressing and not as effective as normal coughing.
Positive pressure ventilation can also damage the delicate lung alveoli, leading to the inflammatory response that Doctors are so concerned about with Covid 19 patients.
Let’s give building a new and much better ventilator to Universities as a project.
Please, don’t keep building more outdated equipment that contravenes the bodies own mechanisms.
If we work with our biological makeup, we will have a fighting chance of saving sick patients. If we try to ignore or battle her, we will surely fail.
What are your thoughts?
For information on low cost ventilators that use smartphones to run on, please go to my Directory page and select Intensive Care under ‘Medical specialty’.
© Wikihospitals April 2020.
COVID 10 Map – Johns Hopkins University & Medicine
17 years for new medical practices to be adopted – 10th March 2013, ePatient Dave
Visualizing the History of Pandemics – 14th March 2020 Nicolas LePan
Other articles in this series: