Bacteria and viruses are smart. When they realize that an antibacterial or antiviral is being used to wipe them out, they mutate. It’s evolution at work, in super-quick time. But they’re not only smart, they also work together. Through a process known as bacterial conjugation, bacteria under threat can swap DNA with other nearby bacteria species and essentially become a new organism, resistant to antibacterial pharmaceuticals. Once, very few bacteria came into contact with antibacterial drugs because their use was not widespread. People used them when they got sick, and that was it. Nowadays, antimicrobials are routinely given to animals not only when they’re ill but as preventatives or as growth promoters. These animals excrete the antimicrobials, as indeed do we, and the sewage ends up in the environment somewhere. More antimicrobials are used in fish farming, plant agriculture, industrial paints, and even for the maintenance of oil pipelines. In other words, our whole planet is awash with antimicrobials, and the microbes are aware of this and are mutating to escape them. The end result is that the once-effective drugs are effective no longer.
This is where we are today, in an international crisis of antimicrobial resistance, known as AMR. In 2013, the National Institutes of Health reported that each year 1.7 million Americans get an infection in the hospital, of whom about 99,000 will die as a result. Of the bugs responsible for hospital infections in the United States, around 70% are resistant to one or more drugs that would have dispatched them a few years ago.
In 2013, the chief medical officer of the UK, Professor Dame Sally Davies, asked the British government to recognize antibiotic resistance as a national catastrophe. The World Health Organization made AMR the theme for World Health Day in 2011, recognizing the huge potential for death on a worldwide scale. Globally, each year about 440,000 people are struck down with multidrug resistant tuberculosis, of whom approximately 150,000 die. Many conditions that we once felt confident we could treat are now a major worry again. With infections that are more difficult to treat, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile, on the loose in hospitals, routine surgery suddenly looks a lot more risky
Scientific journals today are bursting with new research into the antibacterial and antiviral potential of essential oils or their components, and the efficacy of essential oils is not in doubt. The research being carried out is not only to find solutions to human health problems but to counter microbial problems prevalent in veterinary practice, in the food and drink industry, and in farming. Commercial crops are, like us, susceptible to bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and it is precisely because plants have always had to fight these pesky micro-organisms that some of them developed a defense mechanism — essential oil.
There’s no longer any doubt that sweet-scented essential oils have an important part to play in the fight against the toughest microbes. Countless tests have been carried out in university research labs all over the world, using a huge variety of essential oils against a long and varied list of micro-organisms. Clearly, certain essential oils are effective against some bacteria, while others are not. The same can be said for viruses and fungi.
This section is not intended as a replacement for allopathic treatment. What essential oils could do for you is act as a preventative when other people around you have infections, provide an emergency self-defense kit, and act as a backup therapeutic option. Generally, essential oils can be used alongside most other preparations and medications you may be using.
The successful transmission of micro-organisms is largely due to the close proximity of people in crowded commuter trains, schools, supermarkets, movie theaters, and so on. In many Asian countries, it’s common practice to wear a face mask if you have an airborne infection to protect others. Essential oils can easily be incorporated into masks, to give us double protection. This is just one of the many methods we can use to protect ourselves and our families.
I travel a great deal and prepare special blends before I go, in case of emergencies, and I consider the person next to me on a long-haul flight sneezing and coughing to be an emergency. Whatever they have, I don’t want it! The beauty of essential oils is that they are small and easy to transport, versatile, and can be used in different ways.
I know several people — including medics — who never go into a hospital without smearing a dab of essential oil gel under their noses. It may sting, but they think it’s worth it. One or two drops of essential oil on a tissue can be inhaled during flu season as you shop in crowds or travel by train or bus.
At the workplace, various environmental methods of dispersing the essential oils can be used, and in higher doses. Of course, you will need to consult with your work colleagues and check that they don’t find the aroma unpleasant. If they do, it’s easy to find an equally effective alternative they will like.
Self-Defense Kit of essential oils, which is followed by a chart showing some essential oils with antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. After considering the best methods to use to prevent microbial infection, we take a closer look at essential oils that are particularly effective against bacteria, then those pertinent to viral infection, including postviral fatigue.