From good science to misinformation


Good research often falls victim to misinterpretation or distortion: This shows a recently in The Lancet published article (Sept, 2018, Didier Pittet et al.). The authors refer to a series of articles (The Guardian, Reuters et al.) that misinterpreted a recently in Science published study  (Aug, 2018, Sacha J. Pidot et al.).
What happened? The study authors compared older and newer E faecium isolates (obtained between 1997 and 2015) and their tolerance to a 23% alcohol solution, and found that some newer strains were more tolerant to alcohol.
However, hospital alcohol-based handrub formulations contain 60–90% alcohol and there is no evidence of resistance at these concentrations, thus tolerance to a 23% alcohol solution is not clinically relevant.
Alcohol-based handrub is the most effective agent available for hand hygiene and is a key element in infection prevention, the authors of the article (The Lancet) emphasize: As experts in hand hygiene, we feel these misinterpretations could lower health-care worker compliance with hand hygiene practices and put patients at risk.
This example shows how quickly study analyses can be mischaracterized, and unfortunately reflects a well-known phenomenon of our time: To induce a sensation to get attention.
A little bit of sensation can cause immense damage. Misinterpreted informations quickly stick in people’s mind, and it often takes a long time until they lose their importance.
What happened here is a good reminder for me as a medicine journalist not only to read articles attentively, but (if possible) to deal with their sources.


About Author

Carola Timmel is journalist for print and radio and professional speaker. Her focus lies on the topic Medicine & Health.

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