Infection: A Tibb perspective
Dr John P Glynn & Prof Rashid Bhikha
Until quite recently in our history, the prospect of a serious infection filled people with dread and
foreboding. This attitude changed rapidly and for the better with the arrival of the antibiotics 60
or 70 years ago. Life threatening diseases were now amenable to effective treatment with
simple substances derived from micro-organisms. However, the efficacy of many antibiotics is
under serious threat, especially from the global build-up of resistance in bacteria to these
agents. The reasons are several – general overuse, inappropriate treatment, especially for non-
bacterial infections and general dissemination in many staple foodstuffs. On top of this is
increasing evidence that antibiotics can seriously diminish the patientʼs immune system, which
is a powerful component of Physis. Unfortunately, the chance of newer, more effective
antibiotics is remote, for financial and other reasons. Antibiotics, in a nutshell have probably
had their day. But what alternatives are there to the treatment of infection? Tibb is well placed
to deal with three strategies: as part of an integrative medical approach; as a provider of herbal
remedies and lifestyle improvement to deal with chronic infections; and as a pioneer in the use
of hygienic control, based on its empirical and historical experience
A brief history of infection
Since the beginning of time, infection has been one of the major scourges of humankind. Acquiring a
major infection, through injury, warfare or pestilence, was the kiss of death for many, many people.
Children were particularly vulnerable, as their basic body defense mechanisms were not fully
effective and easily overcome by constant exposure to many pathogenic microbes present around
them. The situation was not helped by poor water quality, crowded living conditions and poor quality
food, the lot of most people. Treatment of infection was largely ineffective, and unreliable. The
practice of basic hygiene, purification of water and other measures to improve the quality of daily life
were not widely and consistently practiced, and some actions were of very dubious value. Herbal
therapy was one way of both preventing and treating infection, by helping support the personʼs
Physis, or innate ability to self-heal. However, this was not readily available for much of the
available. Interestingly, bread mould was also applied to skin infections, as the presence of the
healthcare provider was no doubt aware of its therapeutic properties. Live yoghurt and wine vinegar
also had their adherents as topical anti-bacterial agents.
Honey. This was commonly used as conventional therapy in fighting infection well into the 20th
century, when it was discarded from mainstream therapy by the arrival of the antibiotics. In some
countries raw honey is now back on the approval list for infections, as it convincingly demonstrates
ant-infective properties. It possesses a number of useful properties, such as suppressing microbe
growth on the skin due to its high sugar content. Also it contains an enzyme (glucose oxidase)
which releases low levels of hydrogen peroxide into the wound, so helping cleansing and recovery.
Honey applied to an open wound helps Physis, by drawing excess fluid away from the wound, so
inhibiting further infection. Finally, it reacts with the exposed tissue to remove an offensive smell.
A traditional method of infection control was strict adherence to hygiene. This is now undergoing a
renaissance, especially in the hospital environment, as we now understand its importance. On the
personal level, one specific activity is hand washing.
from person to person. Washing the hands at reasonable intervals is the number one protection
against infectious disease, both acquiring the disease, and passing it on by contagion. Although now
generally available, the anti-microbial soaps and gels do not seem to confer additional protection;
certainly against viruses, and probably against pathogenic bacteria. Washing hands thoroughly with
plain soap and water seem enough. They protect against bacterial infections linked to pneumonia,
gastroenteritis, stomach infections like salmonella, superbugs like MRSA, and surgical wound
complications. Virus linked diseases like the common cold and influenza and hepatitis are also
inhibited by hand washing.
Dawn of the antibiotic era. This was the situation until about 60 to 70 years ago. The year 1940 is
reckoned to be the dividing line between the pre-antibiotic and the post-antibiotic eras. The discovery
of anti-bacterials, specifically antibiotics, coinciding with major improvement in living conditions, food
and water quality, and better hygiene revolutionised the infection scenario, almost overnight.
Bacterial diseases in particular, like pneumonia, tuberculosis, infected wounds and injuries
responded so well that many became rarities in a few decades. The age of antibiotics had arrived.
The use of antibiotics to treat serious infections in wounds and rampant diseases became
widespread. The response to antibiotic therapy was nothing short of miraculous. Bacterial infections
which once spelt the death knell for most people responded very positively to treatment, and many
pervasive diseases like scarlet fever, diphtheria pneumonia and tuberculosis, almost disappeared
overnight in the communities which could access and afford them. Society as a whole benefited
hugely by the ability to bring several previously rampant sexually transmitted diseases under control.
For several decades, the improvement in infection management generated such a groundswell of
positive attitudes and enthusiasm that certain medical authorities pronounced “mission
accomplished” – the eradication of bacterial infection.
The conventional medical approach to infection
Pasteur considered that infectious diseases arose from the action of pathogenic microbes.
Incidentally, before his death Pasteur had switched the focus of infection from the invading
pathogenic microbe to the personʼs susceptibility.
In the conventional medical treatment of infection, great store is set on eliminating the offending
versions of natural substances. The antibiotics effectively buy time for the body. They either kill a
high proportion of the microbes (bactericidal), or markedly slow or arrest their growth (bacteriostatic).
This allows the bodyʼs own defence mechanisms to recover and come back into play, then
eliminating the surviving microbes and so alleviate the disease.
“All the great medical breakthroughs in infectious diseases, all the drugs and technical
Also, conventional medicine dictates that the drugs are given as soon as possible in the progress of
the infection, to restrict rampant growth of the microbe. This, unfortunately, interferes with Physisʼ
action, so inhibiting the bodyʼs natural defences.
Alas, this incredible and amazing medical practice success story was about to come to an end.
“Mission accomplished” was, to say the least, hugely premature. For various reasons the antibiotics
became less and less effective, and caused medical problems which were often more troublesome
than the infections they were targeting. With hindsight, the benefits that antibiotics brought were
dissipated by misuse, overuse and abuse. They were used inappropriately for relatively trivial
ailments, for viral infections, for too long, or too short, periods. For example, a child could receive as
many as 30 courses of antibiotics by the age of seven in many developed countries.
They were added to feedstock of farm animals, so exposing many people, especially in the
developed countries, to low levels in their food.
Antibiotics filter down through the food chain in unsuspected ways. Not only for farm
derived meat; fruit and vegetables too. Food crops like lettuce and potatoes will
accumulate antibiotics from soil covered with antibiotic-containing manure.
In greater detail, the main problems of antibiotic use today are:
synthetic chemicals, alien to the body. Physis is often unable to handle and eliminate them in
early exposures, so the normal workings of the bodyʼs different tissues and organs are
greater risk of repeated infections. The formation of antibodies and the activity of white blood
cells, two major agents of the immune response, are reduced by long-term or repeated antibiotic
use. This can cause immense problems, such as greater risk of cancer of parts of the gut
developing. Not only that, but by taking over the role of eliminating pathogenic microbes,
antibiotics make Physis redundant in this area. Its memory of specific antibody formation
necessary to deal with the current or similar infection is erased, so its ability to fight the next
wave of bacterial infection is blunted.
Intestinal problems: The delicate ecological harmony in the intestinesʼ bacterial population is
disturbed by powerful antibiotics. Beneficial bacteria are destroyed, along with the pathogenic
microbes. This leads upset fluid and electrolyte balance, resulting in unpleasant side effects like
diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence, and – more seriously – malabsorption syndrome. It also
paves the way for vitamin deficiencies and yeast overgrowth, which is very fatiguing and
potentially fatal. It invariably requires treatment with expensive antifungal drugs, with the
problems these themselves may bring, such as
be mild, or more serious. On rare occasions these can be life-threatening, especially if they
progress to anaphylaxis.
Cancer: There is considerable evidence that extensive use of antibiotics contributes to the onset
of cancer. The inhibiting effect on the immune system is probably a factor.
But probably the major problem facing the use of antibiotics is:
Bacterial drug resistance: This is largely tied into the misuse and abuse of antibiotics over the
years, for one reason or another. The consequence of this is that we now have a major public
health problem. At least 15 serious diseases brought on by bacteria are now resistant to
antibiotics, even the most potent ones like vancomycin and the carbepems.
There are also risks when giving antibiotics to mothers-to-be. If used extensively in late-stage
pregnancy, the normal balance of good and bad bacteria may be seriously disturbed, so when the
mother gives birth, this distorted balance is passed over to the new-borne child. This eventually has
an impact on the childʼs gut population, and can lead to problems later in life.
Acute and chronic infections
Acute infections are characterized by the active involvement of the entire immune response to
invading micro-organisms. The body is affected with symptoms such as heat or fever, in itself a
most powerful infection-fighting Physis response. Other acute infection symptoms relate to
inflammation: pain, swelling and redness, as well as pus formation, which is made up of dead
bacteria and white blood cells. The patient may also have other symptoms, such as headache, an
upset stomach, or a rash.
body is also unable to remove the bacteria responsible completely. Almost everyone has this in one
Problems with the use of antibiotics
Weakens and opposes Physis
Side effects due to chemical synthetic nature
Development of resistance leads to lack of
Link between frequent antibiotic use and
Misused for disorders which cannot respond
Frequent recurrence of infection
Occurrence of different infection
Cost of treatment with newer antibiotics
form or another. Symptoms are often negligible, if any at all. Typical ones are post-nasal drip
infection. Others are hoarseness from a chronic bronchial or respiratory infection, itchy areas of the
body, or a sensitive tooth. Another common one is stomach discomfort. This may be all that one is
aware of when the intestinal tract is infected with improper bacteria or a parasite infestation such as
However, in many cases, one is unaware of the presence of a chronic infection. Blood and other
types of tests also often show no evidence of it. The reason is that the body has often encapsulated
or otherwise isolated the infecting bacteria, so that it does not cause direct symptoms.
Chronic infections often require a different approach than acute ones. However, for both types the
personʼs Physis should be strengthened to prevent and successfully handle either form of infection.
The situation prevailing until quite recently regarding the use of antibiotics cannot last. In this
scenario, doctors prescribe them often for non-bacterial ailments, patients ask for them for virtually
every illness, antiseptic wipes are available almost everywhere, livestock farmers dose their animals
for economic, not health reasons, and companies push their usage aggressively.
Part of the problem is that doctor training rarely if ever considers alternatives to the use of antibiotics
in the struggle against infection. They learn that what kills the offending microbes, kills the disease.
The curative mentality, which is disease-orientated, prevails over the holistic approach, which is
more patient-orientated. Little regard is paid to the possible value of other forms of medicine, and the
systematic use of hygiene, although this situation is improving.
The future control of infection will revolve around four distinct approaches:
The responsible, judicious and limited use of specific antibiotics which effectively target the
The improvement and general use of hygiene measures, both personal and public, which
The strengthening and support of Physis, so encouraging a greater potential for inner
Protection of gut bacteria. Probiotics are enlisted to protect the harmony existing in the gut
Fundamental to the issue of infection are the questions: What determines whether we succumb to an
infectious disease or not? Why one person gets an infection, but someone else does not? There are
several reasons, not just exposure to a particular pathogenic microbe.
First, the infectious microbe which we take into our body has to be able to evade the actions of our
Physis, which attempts to maintain inner harmony by eliminating it. The most common way this is
achieved is by sheer numbers; a sneeze or cough, or prolonged physical or intimate contact brings a
large number of the offending microbes into our body. If we have not already been in contact with
this particular microbe, then Physis has no memory of it, or how to deal with it, and is therefore slow
to respond decisively to it. This is why a person with strong natural defenses often goes down
quickly to a common pathogen he or she has not been previously exposed to.
Physis to the microbe. Over time, our body has devised an ingenious, intricate but powerful number
of mechanisms to protect us against invasion by hostile microbes. The potential of these varies from
person to person, and is in fact an aspect of the personʼs temperament. Some people are more
inclined to going down with an infection – others less so. This factor also explains why people vary in
the intensity and duration of their symptoms. Some people of a certain temperament are very badly
affected by certain infections, whereas others, even close family members, only develop a mild form
of the disease. The bodyʼs innate defenses, an important part of Physis, include the immune system
and the integrity of the tissues or organs attacked by the pathogenic microbe.
Third, there is the infective climate. This describes the length of time the hostile microbe is in contact
with the person. The longer the time, the higher is the risk of infection occurring, and the subsequent
severity of the infection. The bodyʼs defense systems are ʻworn downʼ by unremitting exposure to the
potentially infectious microbe. The bodyʼs natural resistance is overcome in a process of attrition.
However, most infections eventually heal naturally, as Physis rapidly builds up opposition to the
microbe invasion, and sooner or later overcomes it.
include the quality of the air we breathe our food consumption and sleep status, the physical and
mental exercise we undertake, the season of the year at the time, the emotional issues which affect
us, and the efficiency of elimination of natural waste and toxin from our body. These can have a
major say in whether we surrender to an infectious microbe.
The Tibb treatment of infection
The basic guideline from Tibb when treating infection is based on a saying attributed to Hippocrates:
“Do not lose sight of a fundamental principle. Never work against Nature, but to direct all efforts
towards supporting the bodyʼs natural defense mechanisms”. This applies to all forms of medical
treatment, but especially to diseases brought about by infections.
The initial treatment of infectious disease is to reduce troublesome symptoms. This can be achieved
by the use of herbal therapy, opposing dehydration with water and soups, and encouraging rest,
both as sleep and as relaxation. These measures support Physis. Also in support are emotionally
stimulating measures such as contact with friends and family, and avoidance of excessively cold or
All activities in treating infections are geared to restoring inner harmony. They act to bring back the
personʼs disturbed temperament back to normal, whilst at the same time supporting Physis. Herbal
therapy use of appropriate herbal medicine (“phytotherapy”) and changes to the personʼs lifestyle
Prevention of infection is also amenable to Tibb intervention. Tibb measures rely heavily on two main
behaviours: maintaining good personal hygiene, and enhancing the power of the lifestyle factors,
especially nutrition. These help strengthen the personʼs Physis. Through personal hygiene measures
brought about by health education we can consciously change our behaviour to minimise the risk of
acquiring an infective disorder. We can choose to purify water before drinking it, to avoid a number
of infections; we can sleep under mosquito nets, to avoid malaria; we can cook foods properly to kill
any pathogens lurking in them.
The Tibb approach to infection reflects a general changing in attitude to synthetic, non-natural drug
use. Many people are becoming increasingly aware of our place in Nature, and being more
responsible about it. People are becoming increasingly aware of the generally harmful effects of
many, if not most, drugs. The search is on for better, more ʻNature-friendlyʼ alternatives to prevention
and treatment of infections, which fit into a more ecological lifestyle: ʻco-operation and harmony,
rather than control and confrontationʼ.
Combining Tibb and antibiotic therapy
Tibb is not opposed to the use of antibiotics. It acknowledges that they have been invaluable when
dealing with serious bacterial infections. However, they only deal with the symptom of infection,
which is a weakened or incapable Physis due to bacterial invasion, not its causes. Tibb feels any
use of antibiotics must be done with discretion and responsibility, and as part of an holistic approach,
involving measures to strengthen Physis, improve hygiene and modify the lifestyle factors such a
This gives the personʼs Physis the ability
to work properly in dealing with the pathogenic microbes,
and helped out by antibiotics when the situation demands it.
In fact, the combined use of Tibb measures and conventional medicineʼs use of antibiotics is a very
good example of Integrative Medicine in action. The antibiotics reduce the number of pathogenic
microbes, which have previously overwhelmed Physis. This allows Physis to overcome and
eliminate the remaining pathogens, and so lead to recovery of the patient.
Diseases which respond to antibiotics
Diseases which do not respond to antibiotics
The Tibb way of helping a person with
Lifestyle factor management
Air & breathing
Exercise & rest
Elimination of toxins
The era in which antibiotics were used widely and indiscriminately is drawing to a close, as their
effectiveness is seriously compromised by the development of resistance and other negative
features. There will still be a place for their use in cases of severe infection, emergencies and
wounds. But most infections do not need an antibiotic, and will resolve naturally given time. There is
also the potential for natural healing systems, such as Tibb, combined with traditional hygiene
techniques, to deal successfully with the majority of day-to-day infection; this integrated and holistic
approach combines the individual impacts into one practice. The bodyʼs inner healing systems –
represented by Physis – are enhanced by the supportive measures embedded in the lifestyle factors
(especially diet, rest and sleep), herbal therapy, and the antibiotic reduces the pathogenic microbe
load to levels manageable by the immune system. Any adverse effects brought by the antibiotics can
be minimised by the use of probiotics and other support factors. This holistic approach also takes
advantage of treatment according to the patientʼs temperament. Once this has been normalised,
then the patient is well on the way to recovery. Overall, a safer form of treatment and a gentler
approach to infection is needed – and is available.
Certain kidney diseases
Upper respiratory infection
(nasal, sinus, throat and ear infections)
(kidney and bladder infections)
Lower respiratory infections
(croup, wheezy bronchitis, asthma, recurrent
Sore throat with exudates
Middle ear infections