Superbugged6th February 2007
At the weekend I was reading Bill Bryson's excellent book A Short History of Nearly Everything. In the chapter dealing with microbes, the author is describing the role (and particularly stressing the ubiquity) of bacteria when he suddenly starts talking about HIV and influenza. Whoa. Has the perfectly researched Mr Bryson made the basic mistake of confusing bacteria and viruses? Actually no. On closer reading it is clear that he understands completely the difference between the two but I did have to do a double-take.
Today, a bacterium and a virus are completely interchangeable terms in common-speak. So when the Daily Mail publishes a story on Leslie Ash's battle with the MSSA bacteria, they use the term "virus" throughout - and virtually no one notices. And that presents us with a dilemma because we're trying to accurately portray - in summary form - the original article, not rewrite it to make sure it is technically correct. In any case, for the more complex stories we wouldn't necessarily be qualified to discern either way and would have to trust the accuracy of the original source.
So what to do? Answers on a postcard please...
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