From good science to misinformation


Good research often falls victim to misinterpretation or distortion: This shows a recently published article (September 2018, Didier Pittet et al.) in The Lancet . The authors cite a series of articles (The Guardian, Reuters et al.) which misinterpret a recently published study in Science (Aug, 2018, Sacha J. Pidot et al.).
How could that happen? The authors of the study 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. No evidence of resistance at these concentrations could be found, thus tolerance to a 23% alcohol solution does not seem to be clinically relevant.
Alcohol-based handrub proofs to be the most effective tool available in the fiel of hand hygiene and is a key element for the prevention of infections. 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 misinterpreted, and unfortunately reflects a well-known phenomenon of our time: To cause sensation in order to attract attention.
Such misinterpretation could cause immense damage. Wrong information might get stuck in people’s minds which might take a long time to be gotten rid of.
This incident serves as a good reminder for me as a medical journalist not only to read articles more attentively, but (if possible) to validate 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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