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You only live once: why James Bond’s attitude to travel health leaves us shaken and stirred

International travel is scaling back up, and academic researchers and the general public are advised to be aware of the risks posed by infectious diseases. This can involve serious preparation, at the very least checking your vaccinations.

As regular travellers to countries with substantial burdens of infectious disease, we began to wonder why James Bond is never pictured wandering his pharmacy looking for mosquito repellent. We thus undertook to covertly examine whether Bond adhered to any current travel advice, scrutinizing over 3000 minutes of film at evenings and weekends – all in the name of academic rigor.

In viewings of the most recent film, we were of course the only members of the audience who brought notebooks. 

The short answer is that Bond’s adherence to travel advice was at best erratic and at worst totally contrary to what is recommended for healthy travel. Given how inopportune a bout of diarrhoea would be in the midst of world-saving action, it is striking that Bond is seen washing his hands on only two occasions, despite numerous exposures to foodborne pathogens.

We uncovered above-average sexual activity, often without sufficient time for an exchange of sexual history. That this was not without risk seems supported by the remarkably high mortality among Bond's sexual partners: more than a quarter of his partners do not survive, although there are no clear indications that sexually transmitted infections play a role in any of their deaths.

Bond has a volatile relationship with vector-borne diseases, sometimes wilfully ignoring the risk of pathogen transmission from insect vectors, other times contributing to the destruction of local breeding-sites. His excessive alcohol consumption may be both a blessing and a curse in this regard.

Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase attractiveness to malaria-transmitting mosquitoes; on the other hand, alcohol consumption may inhibit parasites at levels attainable with (albeit excessive) human consumption. No doubt Bond will continue striving to balance these opposing forces. 

We hypothesize that his foolhardy courage, sometimes purposefully eliciting life-threatening situations, might even be a consequence of Toxoplasmosis (a parasitic infection that in mice, leads to a loss of fear of predators – a clever adaptation that increases the chances of them being eaten, allowing them to continue their life cycle inside cats).

Unfortunately, Bond’s attitude towards travel health is quite similar to many ordinary travellers. Exotic locations are on many bucket lists, but often we fail to realize that there is a risk of contracting potentially fatal diseases. For work-related travel, it is a responsibility of the employers to ensure its employees are aware of such risks, and properly prepared.

Given the importance of agents like James Bond for international counterterrorism, we're pleased that in real life MI6 takes its responsibility seriously. We only live once.

Publication

Wouter Graumans. William J.R.Stone. Teun Bousema. No time to die: An in-depth analysis of James Bond’s exposure to infectious agents. Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease. DOI:10.1016/j.tmaid.2021.102175

 

 

 

 

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