A thesis on how smog affects the human body has recently caused a major stir in China. One of the co-authors, Joseph J. Larson, with the Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research at University of Gothenburg in Sweden, clarified that the thesis has been widely misinterpreted.
The report, titled “The structure and diversity of human, animal and environmental resistomes,” was published in the journal Microbiome in November. In the report, the research team states that they tested a huge number of antibiotic-resistant genes in 14 air samples collected on a polluted day in Beijing.
On Nov. 23, an article titled “The painful breath! Drug-resistant bacteria found in smog in Beijing and other places in China” went viral on WeChat. The article stated that urban air pollution is even deadlier than previously assumed, because it contains drug-resistant bacteria. Asserting that it is difficult to predict how cities with serious air pollution would suffer, the article left many Chinese people in a panic.
Larson told People’s Daily that he has been receiving phone calls and emails from Chinese media since Nov. 24. He feels obliged to provide a clearer explanation to the Chinese people so as to stem the spread of distorted reports.
He explained that drug-resistant bacteria are not drug-resistant genes; instead, they are carriers of genes and do not necessarily cause diseases. He added that the study is in its initial stages, and it’s very premature to draw the conclusion that drug-resistant genes can infect human bodies.
Larson further explained that the sample size for the study was small, and requires expansion before concrete conclusions can be drawn. He encouraged the media to use more caution when reporting academic news in the future.