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Superbug Outbreaks: We Need an Intelligent Far Sighted Humane Government

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Candida auris is a dangerous fungal infection that emerged in 2009 in Japan and, in just a few years, has spread round the world, especially in hospitals. It is a superbug: a germ that has evolved defences against common medicines and cannot be treated by the fungal medications now available. These include antifungals such as fluconazole, the standard antifungal drug in many countries, and echinocandins.

Once the germ is present, it is hard to eradicate it from a facility. Some hospitals have had to bring in special cleaning equipment, and even rip out floor and ceiling tiles, to get rid of it.

It is a life threatening fungus with a high death rate. It has been identified in Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Kenya, Kuwait, Israel, Venezuela, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Other countries have it, but probably cannot identify the fungi because the specialized laboratory methods needed to do so are not available.

People with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable - newborns, the elderly, people who are sick with other infections, diabetics, people who have undergone broad-spectrum antibiotic or antifungal therapy. The rise of C. auris has been little publicized because it is relatively new. Outbreaks have been played down, or kept confidential, by hospitals even governments, as publicizing an outbreak would scare people into not going to hospitals. In America, even the Centre for Disease Control is not allowed to make public the location, or name of hospitals involved in outbreaks.

The symptoms of C. auris — fever, aches, fatigue — are not unusual, so it is hard to recognize the infection without testing. The next step is blood poisoning / sepsis, coma, organ failure and death. The fungus can colonize on human skin, or surfaces, and live for a long period of time, allowing it to spread to new patients.

One reason is the indiscriminate doling out of antifungals by the medical community. But even more harmful is the use of antifungals in modern agriculture/animal husbandry.

It is clear that Candida auris’s resistance can be traced to industrial agriculture’s mass application of fungicides which are similar in molecular structure to human antifungal drugs.

Wheat, banana, barley, apple, potatoes, soya bean, grapes, corn, stone fruit, are some of the varied crops that fungicides are used on.

Before 2007 six main classes of fungicides were rarely used. Azoles, morpholines, benzimidazoles, strobilurins, succinate dehydrogenase inhibitors and anilinopyrimidines. Now they are common – with azoles leading the pack. Azoles, used in both crop protection and medicine, are broad-spectrum fungicides, annihilating a wide range of fungi.

It cannot be a coincidence that Candida auris has developed resistance to the azole antifungals, including fluconazole, amphotericin B, and echinocandins.

C. auris has probably been fought off for centuries by the human system. It is only now that it has become immune to human intervention, and can enter the bloodstream.

In an effort to identify the source of the infection, an international team collected fungal germs from hospitals across Pakistan, India, South Africa, and Venezuela in 2012–2015.

They found azole resistance in all – but the strains were varied and related to the fungicide that was used in that country. In response to wide exposure to fungicides in the field, each strain evolved its own unique solution to the problem. This fungus spread and diversified, because patients and crops, through agricultural trade, migrate.

In 2015, scientists discovered that the Candida auris genome had several genes of a superfamily (MFS). MFS effectively destroys broad classes of drugs. It permits C. auris to survive an onslaught of antifungal drugs. They also found that the C. auris genome also had many genes that increased its virulence.

Candida auris is not the only fungus on the cusp of multidrug resistance. There are many more which plants and humans are becoming resistant to.

One fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus causes infection in the lungs and is a major cause of mortality. Azole antifungals, itraconazole, voriconazole, and posaconazole, have long been used to treat pulmonary asperillogosis. In the last decade it has developed a resistance to these drugs, causing the death of lakhs of people each year.

Studies comparing long-term azole users and patients just beginning to take the drug have shown that drug-resistant A. fumigatus was prevalent in both groups, suggesting that resistance came from the food they ate and the antifungals used in fields, rather than in the medicine they took. Agricultural, rather than medical reasons.

In many field studies scientists have found fungicide resistant A. fumigatus in the soil /crops across the world. In simple terms, due to agricultural practices, Aspergillus is entering hospitals already adapted to the slew of antifungal cocktails designed to check its spread. By using azoles to control fungi on fruit and grain, conditions have been created to accelerate drug resistance in human patients.

Aspergillusfumigatus and Candida auris share similar geographical distributions.

One would have thought that both these funguses would have been enough for governments to realize the acute danger its people were in and to phase out all fungicide.

But, instead, government policy has actively promoted the expansion of fungicide use.

Agricultural azole fungicides comprise a third of the total fungicide market. Twenty-five different forms of agricultural azole fungicides are being used in millions of tonnes, compared to just three forms of medical azoles. Fungicides use to control soyabean rust have quadrupled between 2002 to 2006. 30% of corn and wheat had fungicides applied in 2009 and now it is more than 50%. Boscalid fungicide is now commonly used in fruit and vegetables. 33 different fungicides are used on potatoes.

Global sales have tripled since 2005, from $8 billion to $21 billion in 2017, expanding not only in sales but also in geographic distribution.

And, of course, all the fungicide leaches into the water, and you drink it.

Climate change brings heavy unseasonal rains and drought and higher temperatures. This means more funguses. And more fungicides. Unless the government finds a better organic way now.

Instead of blaming hospitals and hospital workers for contamination, we should be looking at agricultural bans of antibiotics and fungicides. Various Indian agriculture ministers, and prime ministers, have promised in Parliament to do so – but have done the exact opposite. As time goes on companies will propose more genetically modified crops to, supposedly, combat funguses, and these will prove to be as deadly as GM Cotton and require even more deadly fungicides in time. As I see it, large chemical companies run governments and the world. And you and I are the victims.

There is so much empirical evidence that simply rotating crops and putting different crops together, like soya bean and flax, can greatly remove funguses. In California, strawberry producers have found that planting broccoli, between rotations of strawberry crops, removes fungus.

Scientists have discovered that instead of azole fungicides to control blight in potatoes, silica works much better.

Organic farming supports good fungi, which crowd out pathogenic fungi. Reducing chemical fertilizers and limiting tillage creates beneficial strains of fungi that form beneficial relationships with plant roots .Crop rotations, the incorporation of legumes, and the cultivation of soil aggregates, instead of burning, create good conditions for soil microbiota.

Leaving small wild areas also removes fungal depredation. For instance, a study done by University of Michigan and Vandemeer, on agroecological fungal control in coffee, found Mycodiplosis fly larvae, from nearby wild areas, feed on the coffee rust in Mexico and Puerto Rico.

What we are doing to our farmers is giving them absolutely the wrong information and tools – of which fungicides are one. Monocultures need fungicides and both cause disease. Agribusiness, and their governments, views nature as their enemy. So wiping out local ecologies and the benefits these offer in helping farmers enrich their soils, clean their water, pollinate their plants, feed their livestock, and control pests—pathogenic fungi among them—means the largest companies can now sell their poisons to a captive market. There must be some reason that our Indian governments refuse to train agricultural scientists, and are happy to have totally ignorant people working in Krishi Vigyan Kendras. Could it be a business plan? Financed not just by pesticide companies but by hospitals and the medical industry? Is there any difference between the rich and poor if both don’t have food safety?

Long before climate change finally does us in, it is catastrophic superbug outbreaks that are now killing millions. While data is available, it is rarely taken seriously by politicians. In the US alone 2 million illnesses and thousands of deaths are caused by drug resistant infections. In India it would be at least a crore, because we indiscriminately use medicines on animals grown for food and on crops. We need an intelligent far sighted humane government. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Just as I Needed Mine

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

When we were young, we spent two months every year with my mother’s parents on a huge farm in a village near Bhopal. We slept in mosquito netted beds in the garden, we shelled peas and roasted green channas, we played pittoo and all sorts of indoor games with shells and seeds. We were fed relentlessly. Did I ever sit down and ask my grandmother things about herself ? Not that I remember. I called her Dujama and learnt her name twenty years later ! I was far too much in awe of my grandfather to even talk to him.

My granddaughter is shy. Once she loosens up she tells me all about her world. But she, like me as a child, has expressed no interest in who I am or what I am interested in. I am her Dadi and that is enough for her. Will my granddaughter remember me when I am gone ? She is small now but I shall to try to pass on as much as I know to her – about my family and the world around us and perhaps how to survive it.

Are we the only grandparents / Do any animals know their grandparents the way humans do ? For most species the answer is no. Insects spread out immediately and the ones that are in community housing – like ants and bees - are brought up communally in nurseries by feeders and caretakers. In 2010, researchers reported, in Current Biology, that in gall-forming aphid colonies, older females defend their relatives after they've ceased to reproduce.  

Most birds do not recognize their family members after their first year. There are exceptions to this, especially among social birds such as cranes, crows, and jays. A 2007 study, in the journal Evolution, found that older female Seychelles warblers help their offspring raise chicks. Canada Geese also remember their parents, and may even rejoin their parents and siblings during winter and on migration. There is cooperative breeding and care in about 200 species of birds. But that doesn’t necessarily include grandmothers.

In some cases, the life of the wild mammal is so short that the grandparents are dead before the grandchild is of an age to know them. In some cases, the children spread out so that they don’t compete for resources – male tigers for instance – so the chances of running into a grandparent are slim. In many species, the mother and grandmother fight each other for resources, if they're in the same area.

But there are so many that live in sociable close knit groups. Humans, whales and dolphins have evolved to live well beyond child-bearing age, because this helps raise the survival chances of their descendants, argues a new theory of ageing in social animals. Dr Ronald Lee of the University of California, in the journal Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, says "In some species, post-reproductive females make substantial contributions to their descendants, either through direct parental care or through grandparental care. Post-reproductive bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales babysit, guard, and even breastfeed their grandchildren" .

Many whale species travel in family pods that include both grandmothers and grandcalves. Orcas and short-finned pilot whales, belugas and narwhals, go through menopause. Once they stop reproducing, grandmothers stop competing with their daughters for mating opportunities. That enables them to live in and play an important role in social pods where all the male and female offspring stay together. Studies show that adult orca sons are more likely to survive with their mothers around. Orca grandmothers often lead their pods and can live for decades after they stop reproducing. Scientists, writing in Current Biology, say that the elders are important because they help the pod survive by remembering the best places to find food and share fish with their grand-calves. In groups of sperm whales old females help babysit the group's young while their mothers dive for food.

Great apes appear to be aware of their grandchildren, and have even been known to foster grandchildren if the parent is dead or ineffective (just like humans).

Rhesuses and Langurs live with their daughters and grandchildren in loving relationships and the grandmother is the boss. The grandmothers are in charge of defending the group's children against assaults from humans, dogs and other monkeys. Within the group, grandmothers give their own grandchildren special treatment, grooming them and disciplining them if they step out of line.

Elephants often live in large families made up of babies, juveniles, and mothers. Elephant herds are usually led by the grandmothers who collaborate with their daughters to raise the young. In a study, in Scientific Reports, scientists found that the calves of young mothers were eight times more likely to survive if their grandmothers lived near them than if they didn't. The experienced matriarch was more likely to offer solutions in life threatening situations than the inexperienced mother. Grandmothers led the family to the right places to forage or drink, or when interacting with other elephant families. According to a study done of 834 individual elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park over a period of 40 years, researchers say "The new and exciting part of our study is the strong effect females have on the reproduction of daughters and granddaughters in their family. Daughters of long-lived mothers lived longer themselves and had higher reproductive rates." 

Feral cat colonies, according to cat behaviour experts at the University of Bristol, are "based around multigenerational cooperation between females—grandmother, her daughters, and their kittens." Male cats are not involved in raising young.

Do dog grandparents acknowledge their granddaughters/sons, or do they just treat them as random dogs? It depends on the "bonding" period they have when they are born. If they get a few months together they will recognize each other. If the grandparents of the pups are around, when they are puppies, they might possible be able to recognize them if given this same bonding opportunity. Although adult dogs can recognize close relatives, that ability depends on what happened to the dog as a puppy.

Their genetic ancestors, the wolves, still move in family packs in which the parents hold the highest status and are the pack leaders. A family of wolves can be large and extended, including aunts and uncles, siblings, grandparents, and even adoptees. The basic form of a wolf pack consists of a bonded pair, known as the breeding pair or alphas. These are the leaders of the family and their bond can last a lifetime. The alpha pair are nearly always the parents or grandparents of the other pack members, until they become too old to continue as leaders, in which case, if they have been benign leaders, their descendants will look after them. If they were bullies as alphas they will be driven out.

According to Lee’s theory of ageing, If a species makes no post-birth investment in raising its offspring, then the species depends entirely on  fertility, not on a long life. Eg. butterflies lay many eggs, then die. But in species where parents have few offspring and invest time and energy into promoting their children's survival, natural selection would logically favour a longer lifespan. So, if grandparents help their children succeed as parents this will favour living even longer. Anthropologists have found clear evidence that older women have a beneficial effect on grandchildren in traditional societies.

My granddaughter needs me and her Nani. Just as I needed mine. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Nurture is More Important Than Nature

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Most people who choose dogs seem to have some physical similarity with them. High heeled coiffured ladies with long legged, high stepping dogs, overweight people with plumper dogs, shaggy haired master and dog. Sadahiko Nakajima is a psychologist at Japan's Kwansei Gakuin University who has researched not just the notion that humans and their pet dogs look alike, but also why that is so.

In 2009 Nakajima showed how people were able to match dogs and their owners simply by looking at photographs of their faces. This is one of the many experiments done that reinforce the popular belief that dog and owner have a physical resemblance to each other.

The next step was to understand why. Nakajima conducted another experiment, the results of which were published in the journal Anthrozoos.

He found that the reason lay in the eyes.

500 people were shown two sets of photographs. One set showed pictures of real dog-owner pairs, while the other set had random pairings of people and dogs. The participants were shown 5 sets of pictures where different organs were masked : no-mask (in which the human's and the dog's faces were unobstructed), eye-mask (the human's eyes were blacked out), mouth-mask (the human's mouth was blacked out), dog-eye-mask (the dog's eyes were blacked out), and eye-only (where just the eyes of the human and the dog could be seen).

The participants were then asked to select the dog-owner pairs that physically resembled each other. As in Nakajima's 2009 experiment,  80 % participants who were shown the unobstructed photos correctly identified the dog-owner pairs . When the owners' mouths were concealed, participants were correct 73 % of the time. But when the eyes of either humans or the dogs were blacked out, there was no accuracy at all – simply random guesses.  When participants were shown only the eyes of the dog and the human, their accuracy rose to 74 percent.

The conclusion reached was that people choose to get dogs that look similar to themselves – but mainly in the eye region.

The psychological mechanism, that explains why a person might choose a dog who looks similar to themselves, is”familiarity”, known in technical terms as the “ mere exposure effect”. That is why we like the same authors, the same “oldie” songs. That is why we vote for actors, and the wives/children of well known people, without caring about their competence. It is also the reason why fake news has so much strength - repeated every few weeks , it takes on a life in our imagination simply because we are familiar with it.

We are familiar with our own faces. So, anything that looks like us  arouses a warm response. In a test done by Dr Stanley Coren, 104 women were asked to look at the heads of four dog breeds: an English Springer Spaniel, a Beagle, a Siberian Husky and a Basenji. The women rated them on looks, friendliness, loyalty and intelligence. The women were divided into those with longer hair styles that covered the ears and those with shorter or pulled back hair that exposed the ears. 

The results ? Women with longer ear covered hair preferred beagles and spaniels with longer ears that framed the face. Women with shorter hair and visible ears chose the Siberian Husky and the Basenji with pricked ears.

Now a new study done by social psychologists at Michigan State University says that dog and owner  personalities also tend to be similar.

The study had 1681 owners of dogs evaluate their own personalities and the personalities of their dogs. Researchers found that most of them shared personality traits. An agreeable person was twice as likely to have a dog that is happy and less aggressive than one who was moodier. Loving responsible owners rated their dogs as amenable to training. Neurotic owners rated their dogs as fearful.

Obviously the study could not rely on just the observation of the owner, as it might be biased. But acquaintances rated the dog in the same way as the owner did.

This is the standard personality guidelines for personality comparison:

Neuroticism or emotional stability – is a person oversensitive and nervous, or secure and confident.

Extraversion – is the person outgoing, sociable and energetic, or solitary and reserved.

Agreeableness –is a person friendly and compassionate, or cold and unkind.

Conscientiousness – is the person hard-working, efficient and organized, or easy-going, lazy or careless.

Openness – Intelligence levels – is the person inventive and curious, or consistent and cautious

When the owners rate the personality of their dogs, using a test developed by the University of Texas to measure a dog's personality, the owners rated their dogs as similar to themselves in all five of the personality traits. Family members rated the dog as well and the results showed, that in four out of the five personality characteristics, these family members saw the same traits in the dog as in the dog's owner. However, both these studies apply to one dog households. If there are more than one, the similarities become less consistent.

A study by the University of Vienna, published in the journal PLOS, recruited 132 dogs and their owners, monitoring the stress of each member of the pair using both behavioural tests (how they reacted to perceived threats in the lab) and physical markers (heart rate and saliva samples to detect the stress hormone cortisol). The scientists found that the more anxious the owner, the more neurotic the dog. If the owner was relaxed, so was the dog.

Why do these similarities exist. Maybe because the owners tend to pick dogs who are similar to themselves. But even more, through our daily interactions with them we shape their personality. Of course  this is a complicated issue. Do friendly people choose friendly dogs. Or do friendly people take their dogs out more so that the dog becomes better socialized? Dr Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, researched 6000 people’s personalities in 1996 to bring out a chart that predicted the breed of dog that they were likely to choose. The data from that study, which resulted in the book Why We Love the Dogs We Do, was not a comparison of the personality traits of the dog and its owner, but on how the personality of the human affected his attitude toward certain types of dogs. For instance, the study found that individuals who owned aggressive breed dogs had life histories associated with aggression.

When Lambu came to me he had been thrown out of three homes for bad behaviour. Alpha male, he needed attention and would not tolerate any other dogs. For the first few months he drove away all the other 24 that live with me, and took the entire front of the house for himself. As time went on, he has become far less aggressive, gets on with the dogs and is a mature well balanced personality whom one can talk to. All my dogs are throwaways, or crippled in some fashion. When they settle down, none of them are competitive, all of them are curious and they tolerate people while wandering through the world with their own personal agendas. We share many traits. They came in having suffered through contact with the world. In my no-demand house they relax, as do the insects, birds, monkeys and the occasional snake

Dog personalities aren’t set in stone. They change as they grow and are influenced by their lifestyles and experiences. The dog you take home from the shelter isn’t the same dog you’ll have a year from now. You have the power to change it. Nurture is more important than nature. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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