|Mike "Alexander" Edmond|
"...we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex (MIC). The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist....As we peer into society's future, we-you and I, and our government-must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage." - President Eisenhower's Farewell Address January 17, 1961
In microbiology and clinical medicine, the MIC is the "lowest concentration of an antimicrobial that will inhibit the visible growth of a microorganism after overnight incubation." I think it's time to recognize a new definition for MIC: the Microbiological Industrial Complex. The MIC encompasses the industry, associated lobbying efforts and government agencies that most benefit from the adoption of expensive and unproven testing and treatment. The MIC has had a tremendous impact on infection prevention practice through economic forces pushing for MRSA active surveillance mandates and perhaps mandatory flu vaccinations of health care workers. This MIC leads to the utilization of expensive (and largely unproven) interventions at great cost both economically and to the well-being of patients. The more we spend on expensive sequencing, the less we can spend on actual prevention. Hand hygiene might not be sexy, but it does more to prevent the spread of resistant infections than any PCR test.
The latest evidence of the insidious rise of the MIC is the initial discussion surrounding the NIH Clinical Center KPC outbreak. So far, the only paper describing the outbreak covered the miracle of whole-genome sequencing and how it helped halt the outbreak, which it most certainly did not. The outbreak was halted using a grab bag of unproven and expensive interventions including the hiring of 9 hand hygiene "police" that monitored infection control practice 24-7. Even NIH's Henry Masur speaking today on the Diane Rehm show said that sequencing "didn't conclusively prove" (what caused the outbreak). Both he and Jule Segre suggested they only stepped up their infection control efforts because of the whole genome sequencing evidence, which is almost certainly not true. They would have used infection control escalation even without expensive testing. (listen to the Diane Rehm show segment here)
To understand the power of the MIC, you don't have to look further than a recent MSNBC report, which noted that the NIH sequencing cost $40,000 and suggested that this technique could spawn a $1 billion industry in the US alone. In discussing the whole genome technique, Dr. Segre was noted to say "When you have patients in your ICU who just paid $100,000 for an organ transplant,"...spending a few thousand dollars to protect them from an outbreak of deadly bacterial infections "doesn't seem like too much to ask."
It seems to me that since there is no evidence that whole genome identified the source of transmission here or elsewhere and even if it did it wouldn't have altered the course of the outbreak, we might better spend our infection control research and clinical dollars elsewhere. Unfortunately, the MIC has more money and more NIH backing. The NIH has a National Human Genome Research Institute but it doesn't have a "National Infection Prevention Institute", for example.
Almost a year ago, Mike peered through his crystal ball and accurately predicted the future of KPC prevention in the US. The NIH outbreak and report starts the countdown, and much like MRSA before it, the prevention efforts will be focused on expensive DNA surveillance efforts backed by large industry lobbying efforts and not investments in the research and expansion of basic and simple infection control efforts. It is easy to blame the healthcare worker for not washing their hands and look for a quick scientific panacea (DNA). Sadly, given that there have been only four high-quality hand hygiene improvement studies since 1980, we haven't provided clinicians with the proven tools to improve hand hygiene. If we continue to bow to the pressure of the MIC and avoid the harder tasks of infection prevention, we will be squandering our precious resources of tomorrow (antibiotics), as Eisenhower warned 50 years ago.
(1) Maryn McKenna: The ‘NIH Superbug’: This Is Happening Every Day
(2) Ed Yong: Genome detectives unravel spread of stealthy bacteria in a hospital
(3) Dr. Judy Stone: The NIH Superbug Story-A Missing Piece
(4) Mike the Mad Biologist: Some thoughts on the CRE Superbugs
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