007 – The Man With the Golden Gut?
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James Bond made a total of 25 films between 1962 and 2021. In all those films, secret agent 007 washed his hands only twice, even though he often stayed in less than hygienic places with considerable health risks. If so, he must be sick much more often, thought PhD student Wouter Graumans of Radboudumc, when he had a serious food poisoning during a working visit to Burkina Faso. To test this, Graumans, along with epidemiologist Teun Bousema and malaria researcher Will Stone, systematically examined all the health risks in the 47 countries Bond visited. Using the advice of the Center for Disease Control as a benchmark. The results of their research have now been published in Travel Medicine & Infectious Diseases. Bond was at much greater risk than we always thought!
The man with the golden gut: Food safety
In Live and Let Die, James Bond finds himself on an island among hungry crocodiles who love to devour him for lunch. Fortunately, he can distract the animals with pieces of raw chicken. Washing his hands thoroughly is out of the question, because he is already busy with an exploding drugs lab and a wild chase in a stolen speedboat.
We see James Bond wash his hands only twice: after a meal in From Russia with Love and after killing an opponent in a mud bath in Diamonds Are Forever. But raw chicken is of course notorious for the risk of bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and Clostridium, resulting in severe diarrhea. And it is precisely diarrhea that claims the most victims among travelers.
Nightfall: Sexual escapades
The sex life of James Bond is above average. In his films Bond undertakes 59 amorous activities, an average of 2.4 per film. Bond changes partners very regularly and the time between first meeting and intercourse is extremely short. In Thunderball it is estimated to be 20 minutes, and when Bond lands with his parachute on a luxury yacht in The Living Daylights, it appears to be even shorter.
Little time, then, for exchanging information about both partners' sexual histories or discussing contraception. That spontaneous unsafe sex is not entirely without risk is shown by the shockingly high percentage of partners who die shortly after intercourse with Bond, namely 27.1 percent. It should be noted, however, that sexually transmitted diseases do not play an obvious role in any of these deaths.
Tomorrow never lies: The hangover
James Bond drinks mostly 'Shaken, not stirred' martini cocktails, but we never see him with a hangover. Does he ever drink anything other than alcoholic beverages at all? Very sporadically, in 3 films. An orange juice in From Russia With Love, a coffee in Dr. No, and salt water in Casino Royale. The coffee contains poison, which knocks Bond out. The salt water he drinks to induce a vomiting reflex, again because he is poisoned.
Maintaining fluid levels is clearly a concern with Bond. He exhibits extreme physical activity in often hot conditions, regularly dressing in inappropriate clothing, such as a black three-piece suit in The Spy Who Loved Me. He also does not use sunscreen in any of the films. Dehydration, sunstroke or heat stroke are thus lurking.
The fly who loved me: Dangerous Bugs
In You Only Live Twice, James Bond walks for hours through the swaying tall grass in the Japanese mountains, with the blazing sun high in the sky, on his way to a rocket launching station. That he has no provisions with him, or at least a bottle of water, is rather unwise. But he did make the right choice with his long pants.
After all, this type of grassland is full of two dangerous critters. Ticks transmit several pathogens, including a virus that causes meningitis. Mites can transmit bacteria (Orientia tsutsugamushi) in this part of the world, which causes scrub typhus. The lady walking along with Bond made a less than wise choice with her outfit: she is only wearing a bikini.
Licensed to ill: Nasty parasites
The regular encounters between James Bond and his archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, especially his white Persian cat, may well underlie Bond's recklessness. In Spectre, the cat even sits on Bond's lap. Could Bond have come into contact with Toxoplasmosis through the cat?
Research shows that mice with a Toxoplasmosis infection are no longer afraid of cats and exhibit reckless behavior. A clever tactic by the parasite, as this makes the mouse fall prey to the cat much more quickly, and this ensures better spread of Toxoplasmosis. If Bond's brain is infected with Toxoplasmosis, that could possibly explain his reckless behavior and lack of fear. Autopsy on Bond's brain after his death may be needed to confirm this hypothesis.
The researchers conclude that James Bond, like many travelers, pays too little attention to health risks. Moreover, his employer gives him too little time for thorough preparation for his trips. They call on M16 and his immediate superior M to take responsibility. After all, we only live once.
Graumans W, Stone WJR, Bousema T. No time to die: An in-depth analysis of James Bond's exposure to infectious agents. Travel Med Infect Dis. Volume 44, November–December 2021, 102175. doi:10.1016/j.tmaid.2021.102175
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