Synbiotics and neonatal sepsis

With this blog I am leaving my beaten path: neonatal sepsis and probiotics. But so does this double-blind placebo-controlled study published today in Nature. To me, probiotics are still “something promising since 25 years”, without ever having substantiated that promise (like Ajax and the Chicago Cubs, until recently). In fact, colleagues of mine once led a study in which probiotics apparently killed patients with acute pancreatitis. This new study may change my view completely.

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Sloppy science & good read

I’m packing for vacation. The book that I will NOT pack is: Rigor Mortis, how sloppy science creates worthless cures, crushes hope and wastes billions by Richard Harris. I read it already two times, and anyone interested in science, or trying to deliver a piece of it once in a while, should read it. It makes you realise what we do, what we publish and what we read. And then, it makes you humble (or sad, or furious, or happy). Continue reading

Exposed: Dutch clinical microbiologists

Exposed; that’s what we are. We, Dutch clinical microbiologists. Globally acknowledged for our capacity to control antibiotic resistance, prevent hospital-acquired infections (HAI) and practice the most rational and restrictive antibiotic policies. That we are self-confident, loud and arrogant  is taken for granted, as most do with Christiano Ronaldo. But it is with great sadness that I have to announce that it was all FAKE. The balloon was pricked by professor Marcel Levi. Continue reading

Good in 2017: preprint publishing

My blog on the “disease called peer review” (Dec 12th) evoked many comments (including from some journal editors), and these directed me to the concept of preprint publishing. Physicists started this 25 years ago, and were followed by mathematicians, computer scientists, and more recently by biologists. It is not yet widely known or practiced in the medical sciences. At least I was barely familiar with it, but I can only admit that this may well help to cure the “disease called peer review“ and H-indexitis. Continue reading

The day after the WIP died

Yesterday, Andreas Voss heartbreakingly described the end of the Workinggroup Infection Prevention (WIP) in the Netherlands. Yet, the end of the WIP is not the end of the Netherlands. The WIP enormously contributed to the success of Dutch infection control and then ran towards it’s own grave, where many now cry (some like a crocodile).

In the final moments before death, nobody was willing to rescue the patient. What went wrong? The government didn’t want to pay for infection prevention guidelines, as they may feared they would then need to pay for all guideline. More fascinating is that the beneficiaries of succesfull infection control, hospitals, didn’t want to pay either. Either they take infection control for granted or were no longer pleased with these guidelines.

Now, let’s look at the crime scene. The WIP created 136 guidelines! You name it, we have a guideline for it. Haircutters in the hospital? Hospital beds? We have it. All these guidelines were drafted by professionals with the best intentions, mostly for free and in absence of convincing scientific evidence for specific recommendations. No problem, as long as we can use them as “best practices” or recent updates for practitioners.

But the world changed. For every unexpected event in the healthcare system someone is to be blamed, for instance the Health Inspectorate, as they should reassure good care. So, they think: “I don’t wanna be blamed. How can we control that system? Wait a minute, they have guidelines and we just check whether they adhere to their own guidelines”. An understandable point of view.

So, we (as healthcare professionals) are now confronted with “sometimes-not-so-usefull-guidelines” to which we should adhere. As long as we can tick the box of adherence we’re safe. For instance, achieving adherence to the guideline of airway management in ORs has resulted in enormous financial investments for hospitals, without any evidence that it increased patient safety.

The death of the WIP can be used to break this chain. Let’s go back to a few multidisciplinary guidelines on things we really agree on: WIP2.0. Maintaining these guidelines will not be expensive (and can easily be covered by a professional society). And where evidence is lacking, professionals rely on their knowledge and experience, share on best practices and talk to each other when in doubt or need of support.

Science in transition, or not?

Something is happening in my university. My dean, prof. Frank Miedema (H-index >70), and friends discovered that the blibliometric way of evaluating quality of science (of a person or an institute) is wrong. (Especially) Young researchers are pursuing – for the wrong reasons – a high H-index (many papers cited frequently) and the publication pressure distracts them from doing the better things for patients and society. So, they decided to break free, and they tell their story this week in Nature (high impact factor, isn’t that what they call irony?).

I whole-heartedly agree with the philosophy of “Science in transition”. The impact system is sick, see. In Nature, also the story of Mark Ferguson, former dean of biology at the University of Manchester: as a predecessor of the Science Transitioners he decided 20 years ago that professor applicants should, instead of their impressive publication list, submit what they considered their 3 most important publications, with motivation.

That made me think. What would I submit? Here they are:

The recognition that the number of other patients with VRE in a ward is the best predictor for new acquisitions, see. Bob Weinstein named it colonization pressure, and the subsequent recognition that this number in the ward is influenced not only by acquisitions, but also by admitted and discharged patients got me on a plane to Oxford to learn about mathematical modelling and that the dynamics of AMR in a hospital are quite similar to malaria (healthcare workers being mosquitos). Today, I still enjoy working with mathematicians.

Two years later we had the first 2 outbreaks with VRE in the Netherlands. We studied these isolates, together with a bunch of isolates I took home from Chicago and other outbreaks across the globe. Rob Willems and Janetta Top discovered that all outbreak isolates contained the esp-gene (and others did not), see. Now we know that a subclade of E. faecium, containing esp and much more, is responsible fort he global pandemic of ampicillin-resistant and vancomycin-resistant E. faecium. Today, I still enjoy working with molecular biologists.

Six years ago we thought of ways to bypass the hurdles that killed clinically relevant research for treating community-acquired pneumonia (CAP); antibiotics before randomization to study antibiotics and enrolling only a fraction of those actually treated for CAP. Inspired by a previous study we used a cluster randomized approach and changed the hospital antibiotic policy every 4 months, see. The 3 options were – without preference – recommended by our national guideline. It took us 3 years  to get funding and IRB approval, but in the end we were among the first to integrate randomized comparative effectiveness research with patient care, see. I firmly believe that this type of research is the future for infection prevention.

Not sure if I would have been hired, since all 3 studies were published in respectable journals (and were cited). My point, science must transit, but it should not stop us from publishing our work in journals that are read by many colleagues, as I am convinced that these studies would not have received the same attention if published in non-peer-reviewed journals. I trust my dean & Science in Transition are with me on this.

I wrote this blog while listening to my playlist on Spotify, and at the end of writing Carly Simon sang “You’re so vain”.

The 30-Second-Questionnaire: Antibiotic Myth Buster

Schermafbeelding 2015-11-13 om 11.53.54

Here we are again, the year flew by and it’s time for Antibiotic Awareness Day/Week. This time around, I will spend my time in a call-center, answering questions of concerned citizens/ex-patients in Germany. Smart idea of a friend in the German public health service and probably smarter than doing what we usually do: organize a meeting, ask all our colleagues to come, and preach to our own community.

While I believe that there is no ID or Clin Micro person left that is not convinced of the importance of saving our miracle drugs (Australian campaign), I know that I will get questions I can’t answer, or at least, don’t know if my answers are truly true.

Here it goes, my antibiotic conundrum that could  be classified as “Antibiotic Myth”:

Is it true that I have to finish my antibiotic treatment as prescribed?

Will “too short” lead to antimicrobial resistance, or is it the “too long”? My guess, 99% of the professionals will answer this question by releasing an avalanche of questions, regarding the bug, the host and the site of infection, but I have to insist on a simple “yes” or “no”. Sorry, but those are the rules of the “30-Second-Questionnaire” and you can’t argue the rules.

Thus here is my request. Follow the link to the questionnaire, take 30 seconds to answer the question (and 4 others) and email, twitter, blog or use any kind of communication you can think of to forward it to your friends and family. I promise, I will post the outcome right here, a week or two later.