Mike the Mad Biologist

FOX TV Misinformation About MRSA

I have a week off, so I’ve been going to the gym in the morning later than usual. I’m still recovering from the near-lobotomization of morning radio, so I wasn’t prepared for a report on the “superbug” on Fox’s The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet–think of it as a cheap knockoff of Regis and Kelly. Since the sound wasn’t turned on for the television, I should have just left it alone, but no, I had to check out the video on the interwubs when I came home.

First, anyone who says that evolutionary biologists suck at communicating should watch this bozo. It’s a classic example of how not to communicate a public health issue. The hosts are clearly under instructions to whip up feelings of panic, so plowing into “resistant to penicillins” isn’t the place to start. He never even mentioned MRSA, as far as I can tell. And the bacteria didn’t “become smart”, they evolved. It’s when he reached the part of what we can do to limit MRSA infections where things really went off the rails.

Now, when he started talking about cleaning sports equipment, and for that matter, schools in general, I started gaining some hope, only to have it dashed by his wrongheaded advice. First, he talks about washing surfaces with “antiseptic solution.” I’m assuming he is referring to triclosan-containing cleaners. This is absolutely unnecessary and may turn out to be harmful in the long run, since triclosan is the first line of defense in the hospital. There’s no reason to turn your home into a hospital ward*. Regular cleaning products, as well as rigorous handwashing will greatly limit MRSA spread.

But what made my head go boom was this doctor’s downplaying of alcohol sanitizers because “they can dry out your skin.” While handwashing with soap and water is preferable to alcohol, since alcohol sanitizers don’t remove dirt**, in many cases, handwashing isn’t a feasible option due to time constraints (or not wanting to seem like Howard Hughes). Alcohol sanitizers are important and effective–not just against MRSA, but viruses too.

FOX TV: doing its part to make the MRSA problem even worse.

*There are cases where triclosan should be use in the home, in consultation with your doctor.

**And feces. And other sundry crud.

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Comments

  1. #1 Matt Penfold
    October 31, 2007

    In the UK there has been, and still is, a problem with MRSA and as you point out using an alcohol gel is a useful measure to prevent the spread of infection. However a new bug has appeared, Clostridium difficile which is also killing people but is not killed by alcohol, and requires hand washing.

  2. #2 Ian Gould
    October 31, 2007

    “The hosts are clearly under instructions to whip up feelings of panic, …”

    Spend 16 minutes watching Fox News and noting the disconnect between the intros – which are almost always wildly sensationalistic – and the actual stories.

    Fox News pretty much exists to spread fear: “More children’s toys have been recalled for safety reasons – stay tuned after this break to find out which ones.”

  3. #3 Rgar
    October 31, 2007

    So…when washing my hands, what should I be using for soap? Is there something other than the multitudes of anti-bacterial handsoaps that I should be using? Or are they not contributing to the resistance problem?

  4. #4 Brian
    October 31, 2007

    Not all soaps are antibacterial, Rgar.

  5. #5 mark
    November 1, 2007

    I think the mechanical aspect of hand washing will remove much of the germs. The soap (ordinary, like Ivory) also removes oils to which the germs stick. Most soaps also contain perfumes and dyes, the purpose of which is to make your septic tank or sewage treatment plant look and smell nice.

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