Press Releases

2002 Releases

New Book Highlights Overkill of Germs as a Major Public Health Crisis and Focuses on Empowering the Public to Better Manage Risks

For immediate release:  April 24, 2002 

Boston, MA. - In spite of growing scientific evidence that our medical arsenal is failing against germs, most Americans remain unaware of how their overuse of antibiotics and other germ killers contributes to this growing public health crisis. "We must put the public back into public health in this age of risk management" said Kimberly Thompson, Sc.D., Assistant Professor of Risk Analysis and Decision Science at the Harvard School of Public Health. "With all of the fear about germs from bioterrorism, we must keep in perspective the everyday germs that continue to sicken and kill thousands of Americans and appreciate the need to avoid overkill." Thompson's new book with Debra Fulgham Bruce called Overkill: How Our Nation's Abuse of Antibiotics and Other Germ Killers is Hurting Your Health and What You Can Do About It (Rodale Press) breaks new ground by focusing on empowering individuals to understand and better manage their personal risks from germs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a campaign to prevent antimicrobial resistance last month that focused on providing tools for health care providers. Thompson emphasizes that the public health community needs to help individuals understand their risks and what they can do to reduce them. The authors offer a series of questions to help individuals characterize their personal risk profile and then suggest practical steps to take for protection from germs and from the misuse of antibiotics and antibacterial products.

Thompson, whose research lies in the nexus between the assessment, management, and communication of risks, notes that germs remain a major killer and threat both to individuals and to the public health in spite of any perceptions to the contrary. In the book she explains the germ basics and the threat of resistant organisms, frequently called "Super bugs," that have public health experts at the CDC, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization, and other agencies sounding alarms. Thompson suggests practical actions that the public can take to improve their health, fully respecting preferences for conventional and/or alternative medicine approaches.

With estimates that as many as 2 million Americans may have taken powerful antibiotics just as a precaution in response to the anthrax scares in October 2001, the need for a better understanding of the consequences of antibiotic overuse is urgent. Thompson, whose research includes topics related to the risks and benefits of biodefense strategies, provides critical advice in order for Americans to be prepared for biological attacks.

Overkill offers detailed information about risky behaviors with suggestions for ways of dealing with common illnesses and helps to engage readers as effective partners in the effort to understand germ risks and control the spread of disease. For more information about the book, visit Thompson's Age of Risk Management web site at

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752

Kimberly M. Thompson, Sc.D.
Department of Health Policy and Management
Phone: 617-432-4285