Superbugs

While the events of the past few days may make the apocalypse seem to be coming via other means, I still feel that climate change and the terrorists won’t knock us off quickly enough for us to avoid death by the scourge of antibiotic resistance.

Here’s a Cape Talk interview with the WHO’s Dr Marc Sprenger on the pisspoor Kieno Kammies show this morning.

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But it seems that a lot of people simply don’t understand what a antibiotic resistance and superbugs are. Research has shown that there are two main categories of misunderstanding here. Both are bad, but you can completely understand the confusion of the 20% of people who have simply misheard the word and believe that it’s actually a “Superb Hug”. That wouldn’t be bad at all. It would be… well… superb. And a hug. Everyone loves hugs. Especially superb ones.

That’s not going to kill you.

The other 80% of those who don’t get what antibiotic resistance is, think that it’s the patient who becomes resistant to the antibiotic:

The researchers asked them about it and got blank faces in response. When probed—and here’s the bit that really shocked me—almost everyone assumed that it’s the person who becomes resistant to antibiotics, not the microbes. You take enough of something, they reasoned, and your body gets used to it and builds up a tolerance. It’s such an intuitive idea that even after they read simple descriptions that explained how bacteria become resistant, they reverted to the resistant-patient idea.

I hope his probe was properly sterilised between interviews.
The implication of this misconception is:

…a pretty serious one, because some people reasoned that if they don’t finish their courses, they’re less likely to become “resistant.” Ironically, that decision could increase the odds of developing an actual drug-resistant infection by leaving a pool of surviving microbes that have experienced and withstood the antibiotics.

Even the term “Superbugs” was described as misleading. Oh dear. I’ve buggered up the title of my post. Properly.

The issues here seem to be much greater than merely the apparent apathy over the dangers of antibiotic resistance, or, as we’re now suggested to describe it: “drug-resistant infection”.

If you change the noun to infections or germs, and make resistant the adjective, you make a huge difference to people’s ability to work out what’s going on. It’s opened my eyes to how much more research we need to be doing on public-health communication.

The problem is that people don’t even understand the concept of what they supposed to be apathetic about. And if we’re ever going to get them to be apathetic about it (and don’t worry, yes, this is merely the first step of my master plan), then we, as microbiologists and healthcare professionals, need to remedy that.

Even though, soon, we’re not going to be able to remedy anything else.

You’re Encouraging Alcoholism!

Each Thursday, genial local radio host John Maytham presents his wine review on Cape Talk, Cape Town’s medium wave news and talk station. (Yes, medium wave is still alive and well in Cape Town, readers!)

Here’s this week’s offering, fresh from the web:

Agama Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Price: R65.95
Fine example of a cool climate sauvignon blanc – grapes grown on six different Elgin farms. Brisk acidity, strong capsicum qualities, and enough complexity and length to suggest ageing potential.

Klein Steenberg Cabernet 2006
Price: R49.95
Entry label from this excellent Constantia producer. Medium-bodied, soft tannins, ripe berry fruit on nose carrying through to palate. Very good value.  

Cellarhand Backchat Blend 2006
Price: R19.95
Cheerful concoction of seven different varietals, blended together in a very drinkable christmas cake confection. Excellent value.

Sir Lambert Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Price: R78.95
A very impressive debut wine from the Lamberts Bay region. Good asparagus and gooseberry flavour associations, but most impressive is the minerality and the poise that this young wine already shows.

Now I’m no expert on wine, but Maytham is – he knows about “tannin structures” and talks about “restrained oaking” and “black pepper and spice and savoury charcuterie on the nose”.
I, on the other hand know about “colour” and talk about “red” and “white”. And I’m nearly always correct once it’s out of that confusing green bottle.

But all is not well with the Maytham wine review. As he revealed this evening, each time he does his review, he is hit with a whole plethora* of correspondence accusing him of promoting and encouraging alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Are they serious?!? Well yes, apparently, they are. And Maytham addresses their concerns by describing his review as promoting the responsible enjoyment of an alcoholic drink, in a responsible manner; as a legal and informative review of local produce.

And, of course, he’s completely right.

What these correspondents don’t seem to realise is that if John Maytham was doing a wine review in order to encourage alcoholics and promote alcohol abuse, it would be much more like this:

Agama Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Price: R65.95
White wine. Good on cereal at breakfast time. Tastes like grapes. Bloody expensive and only 12%.

Klein Steenberg Cabernet 2006
Price: R49.95
This one is red. Tasted bloody awful with my morning biscuits. Second bottle was better. 15% alcohol. That’s almost like a sherry. Yeah baby!

Cellarhand Backchat Blend 2006
Price: R19.95
Less than R20! Love it! Don’t think it tastes great, so best to down it in one. Thish ish an everyday wine and I like to drink it every day. Ish lovely.

Label Completely Blurred 2007
Price: R78.95
Eighty Randsh?!? Eighty?!? Thatsh jusht tooooo expeshive. I could get loadsh of voddy for that. Loadsh! Hey Boet! Hey there – are you looking at my girl? Nah – thatsh ok, you’re my besshtesht mate. I love you. I do.

At this point, there would be a clunk as his head hit the desk in front of him, followed the sound of loud, drunken snoring and the show would promptly end; the ensuing silence probably hastily filled in with some Josh Groban album or something. And I think we can all agree that promoting Josh Groban is clearly far more serious than promoting alcohol abuse.
So I think it’s to everyone’s advantage that Mr Maytham continues to do his weekly review in a responsible and adult manner. Keep up the good work, John.

* yes, a whole plethora. No half plethorae here.