28 October 2021

More like Ian Phlegming

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Living dangerously is basically James Bond’s whole thing.

By necessity, secret agents must have a fairly unhealthy attitude towards their own health (unless they work for the CIA).

When knife-fights, gunfights, harpoon-fights and laser-fights are part of the job description, 007 can’t go complaining to MI6 HR every time he’s forced to jump from an exploding helicopter. Does MI6 even have an HR rep? Is it the Queen? If there’s one person who definitely couldn’t tell you, it’s James Bond.

But just because the world of international espionage is fraught with danger, that doesn’t excuse taking unnecessary risks with personal hygiene.

After a nasty bout of food poisoning during a visit to Burkina Faso, PhD student Wouter Graumans wondered about James Bond and his imperviousness to not only death by violence, but also illness. Despite a 60-year career hopping from one exotic location to another, and one bed to another, the iconic super-spy hasn’t contracted so much as a cold.

With epidemiologist Teun Bousema and malaria researcher Will Stone, Graumans undertook the serious task of reviewing every James Bond film and systematically analysing all the health risks he encountered. Their study has now been published in Travel Medicine & Infectious Diseases, and the results are explosive.

Among Bond’s many negligent health behaviours, the authors cite his rate of apparently unprotected sexual encounters as a major concern, racking up a total of 59 liaisons across 25 films (a mean of 2.4 per film).

“That casual sex is not without risk appears supported by the high mortality rate (27.1%; 95% CI 16.4–40.3) among Bond’s sexual partners, although sexually transmitted infections played no obvious role in any of their deaths.”

Bond’s hygiene is almost as bad. He is only seen washing his hands twice in the entire series, and in a particularly egregious case, handles raw chicken to distract hungry alligators.

“In a possibly short-sighted move, he … fails to wash his hands, neglecting both the risk of bacterial infection (Campylobacter, Salmonella or Clostridium) and the lack of toilet facilities during the ensuing boat chase.” 

The authors note that all of Bond’s poor hygiene habits are in addition to the underlying risks associated with his “extreme lifestyle and substance abuse”. That is, rampant drinking and smoking.

“Alcoholic beverages, shaken or stirred, do not prevent dehydration, which is a major concern given the extremes of physical activity he goes to, often in warm climates.” 

And on top of all that he only visited his dentist once.

In an attempt to explain Bond’s propensity for risky behaviour, the authors offer a pet theory: that Bond’s regular contact with arch-villain Blofeld’s white Persian cat has infected him with toxoplasmosis.

“In mice, toxoplasmosis has been linked with a loss of fear of cats; a clever manipulation by the parasite to increase the probability of transmission by ingestion. Although speculative, toxoplasmosis might explain Bond’s often foolhardy courage in the face of life-threatening danger.”

If true, Blofeld’s most effective plot may have been entirely unintentional. It seems the only thing standing between SPECTRE and world domination is James Bond washing his disgusting hands.

If you spy something shaken, stir up an email to felicity@medicalrepublic.com.au