October 26, 2000

The Kissing Disease?

First, a clarification. The title of my last entry (It Beats the Alternative) might be misconstruable (or is that misconstruible?) that is, I didn't mean to imply that the Canadian system of democracy "beat" the American system.

Sometimes I choose a title by letting my mind wander, and it was thinking about voting and waiting in line and reading and listening to the endless drivel put out solely to manipulate me into putting my X in the correct place (or in the case of Quebec, figuring out an excuse to discard my vote if I don't put my X in the correct place, but that's another story..) - still, with all its flaws, democracy beats the alternative. That's all I meant to say.

Now for the rant du jour..

This article appeared yesterday in the National Post, a Canada-wide newspaper:

Parents can transmit SIDS-linked germ: study
A team of British researchers has raised alarm by suggesting parents can transmit an infection linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by kissing their babies.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is when perfectly normal, healthy (or so it seems) infants die in their sleep. The article says that 150 such deaths occur in Canada every year. This is one of the many things new parents worry about, and every few years a new cause is proposed. For example, when I had my babies, I was told to make them sleep on their stomachs so they wouldn't breathe in their vomit. Nowadays parents are told that babies must sleep on their backs.

Until a cause (or group of causes) is scientifically verified, headlines like this one make steam come out of my ears.

The research deserves to be reported - it's the headline and first sentence that I'm taking issue with.

The point of the article is that a certain bacterium was found more frequently in autopsies of SIDS babies than in babies who died of other causes. This is a common bacterium which many people carry harmlessly but which was recently proven to cause peptic ulcers.

(The article went on to quote an expert who disagreed with the method used in the study - this research is at a very preliminary stage.)

A doctor from the research team was quoted as saying,

"..the transfer of saliva ... to the mouths of babies should be prevented."
"Feeding bottles and pacifiers should not be sucked by carers,"

The word "kissing" does not appear anywhere but in the first line of the article (quoted above). It does not appear in the online abstract of the research report in the medical journal. I couldn't access the full text of the article (I'd have to pay for a subscription, and I'm not that good!) but I'd confidently bet that it doesn't appear there either.

The "team of British researchers" didn't suggest that parents can cause this tragedy by kissing their babies. The journalist who wrote the article did.

Now we're going to have nervous, overzealous parents who are afraid to kiss their babies anywhere! I won't even bother to reference studies that state how important physical signs of love are to a young child (as they are to everyone, but young children operate on a mainly physical, as opposed to verbal, level). This puts the concept of benign neglect on a whole new plane.

If this research turns out to be valid, concerned parents can have themselves screened for this bacterium and take antibiotics if necessary; but the very last thing they should do is withhold the kissing, licking, biting, chewing, and nuzzling of those delicious chubby baby parts. Even when I hold a friend's child, and that sort of thing is inappropriate, I have to make a conscious effort to not do it. We're going to produce a generation of seriously neurotic children and parents.

Furthermore.. when the unthinkable does happen.. are the bereaved parents to hold themselves responsible for the tragedy? Does the guilt apply retroactively too? Haven't these parents suffered enough without some half-baked conclusions drawn by a reporter, presented in the very first sentence of the article where it may be understandably interpreted as truth? This form of irresponsible journalism (and editing!) belies the National Post's efforts to be regarded as a respectable newspaper.

I did some looking around on the web, and found the research covered, much more responsibly, in a British newspaper, the Independent. They also had this commentary, which I had not read before I wrote the above; it mirrors and expands upon my point.

And now I suppose I have to edit this and send it as a Letter to the Editor of the National Post. Grumble..

Linque Du Jour:   Rent-a-Relative

This cannot be for real.


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