The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Souvenir

(May 6th, 2014) Ok, so, it’s only May but did you make plans for your summer holiday already? Are you considering a trip to India or Greece, perhaps? Some recent studies show that you could take home more than nice memories of a beautiful sunset over the sea.





Day in and day out, you have been working in the lab for hours and hours on end: Pipetting this, culturing that; despairing of this, panicking about that. So, the time is more than ripe to enjoy life outside the lab, you think. How about a summer holiday? Sipping a cocktail, watch other people work, not thinking about your latest project AT ALL? Have you made plans already? How about going to Greece or India? Oh, the sandy beaches, the delicious food and the exotic atmosphere.

Keep in mind, though, occasionally, travellers take home more than the usual dust catching souvenir sold in little shops in the Old Town. Those other, rather nasty souvenirs you pick up during your travels, you might only want to show to your microbiologist friend. French researchers recently reported on three cases of healthy travellers, who returned with very special travel buddies from their trip to India – drug-resistant, carbapenemase-producing enterobacteriaceae (CPE).

All three voyagers were women, in their twenties, thirties or fifties, who mostly travelled alone as backpackers. All of them had several phenotypically distinct E. coli in their stool, producing OXA-181 or New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1 (NDM-1), carbapenemases and a CTX-M group 1 lactamase. “The Indian subcontinent had already been identified as a major reservoir for antibiotic resistant bacteria, and CPE have been found in both seepage and tap water in the city of New Delhi. (…) On a positive note, the duration of CPE carriage in the three travellers was less than one month,” write the French doctors. And only one of the women had complained about digestive disorders.

Your well-deserved summer holiday might not only be spoiled by stubborn gut bacteria. Journeys to far-away countries can come with lots more unpleasantness. Greek researchers listed the most common medical conditions of tourists, who came to Zakynthos Island to escape the burdensome duties of everyday life, from May 1 to October 30, 2012. The study included 2,688 foreign travellers, mostly from the UK, Serbia and Hungary, who sought medical attention at one of the island’s medical centres. In most cases, the poor tourists suffered from gastroenteritis and disorders of the respiratory tract (otitis externa, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, common cold or acute bronchitis). Also very “popular” were dermatologic conditions like insect bites, sunburn and allergic rashes and injuries of muscles and bones (lacerations, fractures, abrasion, sprains and dislocation).

In case you were wondering, this editorial does not intend to scare you off your holiday plans. We believe, you really deserve a break from your work. That’s why we leave you on a positive note. If your itinerary really takes you to Greece, here’s a tip for a harmless and healthy souvenir: Greek honey. When Finnish and Greek researchers analysed 12 different honeys from Greece (commercially available or provided by certified bee-keepers from amongst others Chania, Irakli and Chalkidiki), they found that they contain very high concentrations of phenolic acids. They found the highest concentrations of protocatechuic and caffeic acid in conifer tree honey (from pine and fir), while thyme honey brimmed over with p-hydroxybenzoic acid. Now, you have to know that phenolic acids are said to have many beneficial effects like anticancer, antiinflammatory, antioxidant and antiatherogenic activities. The researchers, of course, tested their Greek honey extract accordingly and happily concluded, “Our findings suggest that Greek honeys are particularly rich in phenolic acids and exhibit significant antioxidant, anticancer and antiatherogenic activity, which may be attributed, at least in part, to their phenolic acid content.”

And that’s perhaps a much better souvenir to take home than bad bugs and broken bones. 

Kathleen Gransalke

Photo: www.publicdomainpictures.net/George Hodan




Last Changes: 09.22.2015



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