Sunday, November 11, 2007

Treat this flu with antibiotics

A big problem these days is the overuse of antibiotics. One of the reasons antibiotics are overused is that people use them for viral illnesses not bacterial ones. But the NY Times Book Review has an example of a "flu virus" that if you have it, you should use antibiotics on. In a review of Craig Venter's new book in this Sunday's Times, Peter Dizikes refers to one of Venter's achievements in sequencing the first genome:
But he never found a comfortable place in the fledgling government project to chart the human genome and in 1992 joined a new private group, the Institute for Genomic Research. There, Venter and colleagues became the first researchers to chart the whole genome of any organism (the flu virus), among other landmarks, and refined a technique allowing scientists to piece together genomes from small bits of DNA, minimizing the ponderous genetic surveying then in use.
Fine and dandy, except it was not the flu virus, but a bacterium sometimes referred to as H. flu, also known as H. influenzae. It does cause an illness that can resemble the flu, but it is definitely a bacterium. If the Times gets it wrong, one cannot really expect the public to get it right can we? I am not sure what the solution here is, but maybe we should stop saying things are "flu-like" when we mean "flu-like symptoms." Or maybe we need better diagnostics for the home, so that people can figure out what they have more easily.


  1. Also:

    "Chart" a genome? That one's new to me -- although it seems like a derivative of "map" a genome. How hard is it to type "sequence"?

  2. You know .. I knew that might get to you if you saw this. On your blog, maybe you need to go even deeper into ALL the bad ways to say "sequence".

  3. Poor Haemophilus influenzae. It was initially blamed for the 1918 influenza epidemic but turned out to be an innocent bystander. It's been trying to live down this bum rap ever since.

    It does move into respiratory epithelium whose defenses have been devastated by the influenza virus or other viruses. If you find yourself with a cough you can't shake weeks after having a cold, H. influenzae may be part of your problem.

  4. Of course I still think that Craig should have named his book "A Life in Sequence". I mean, "decoded"? Hopefully his publishers are to blame for that.

  5. That "charting" bit got to me, too. But, it did make me come up with a reference to a Primus album title, "Sailing the Seas of Cheese" (or Ts or Gs or well, you get the idea)


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