Fish to our rescue?
By Jim Poling Sr.
With lakes opening, winter-weary minds turn to fish. A fish netted in the open water floating your boat is genuine proof that spring is here.
Fish, however, provide us with benefits beyond the simple joys of rod and reel. They help maintain biosphere balance, provide vital protein for millions of humans, and even give comfort to folks with home aquariums.
Now there is news that fish might hold the key to saving millions of lives. Some scientists believe that fish slime has antiseptic powers that might be used to develop new, much needed antibiotics.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that antibiotic resistance in microbes such as bacteria is growing to dangerously high levels. More and more infections, such as pneumonia, blood poisoning, food poisoning and gonorrhea, are becoming harder to treat as antibiotics become less effective.
WHO says that antibiotics are becoming less effective because of overuse and misuse.
For instance, a U.S. study found that 23.2 per cent of antibiotic prescription fills in 2016 were “inappropriate” use of those medications. The most common conditions for which those antibiotics were prescribed were coughs, colds and chest infections. Antibiotics kill bacteria but are not effective against viruses that cause coughs and colds.
WHO has started a campaign to prevent and better control drug resistance by educating and advising individuals, health care professionals and policy makers, as well as investing in research to find new drugs and vaccines.
“Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill,” the health organization says.
AMR, the acronym for antimicrobial resistance, now causes 700,000 world deaths a year, WHO reports. Some researchers believe that without urgent action now, drug resistant infections could kill 10 million people a year by 2050. That is more than the number of people around the world who die annually of cancer.
New antibiotics that infectious germs are not familiar with need to be developed. Most current antibiotics were developed from microbes that live in soil. Now the search has moved to other environments. That’s where the fish come in.
Fish produce a slimy mucus on their skin for a variety of reasons, the most important being protection against parasites, harmful bacteria and fungi. Microorganisms in the mucus have chemical mixtures that some scientists believe might be useful in developing new antibiotics.
Studies so far have found that certain chemical mixtures from fish slime have been found to tackle some staph infections, some E coli and even some colon cancer cells.
There’s a long way to go before we know whether fish slime can help develop new drugs needed to fight germs that have become resistant to the current ones. However, there is hope and considerable excitement about research work being done with fish slime.
Meanwhile, with the spring fishing season here we fishers need to remind ourselves that whether or not fish slime can produce beneficial drugs for us, it is still important to individual fish. We need to be careful how we handle fish in catch-and-release situations.
Slime is a protective barrier critical to good health of a fish. It keeps out tiny bacteria and keeps in essential fluids and electrolytes. A break in the slime coat is like a cut on human skin. Losing a swath of slime is like peeling off a large piece of skin from a human body.
It is difficult to land a fish without disturbing its slime, but there are ways to minimize slime damage.
Those inexpensive knotted, hard nylon nets are like running a rasp across fish skin. Coated nylon nets without knots are less damaging. Even better are rubber nets.
There also are fish grips for pulling in a fish by the lower lip and avoiding touching its body. The key to using them is to keep the fish horizontal, and not vertical, to avoid stress on its body.
Also, if a fish is laid on the boat floor for hook removal, keep it well wetted. If the hook cannot be removed quickly and easily, cut the line and leave the hook in when you release the fish. Steel hooks rust and eventually fall out, which leads to another reminder: use regular steel hooks, not stainless steel which does not rust.