James Bond's Best Escapes Are From Infections

While martinis probably aren't more protective than good travel habits, researchers can't explain the superspy's luck.
An illustrated silhouette of James Bond surrounded by the names of infectious diseases

Each phrase in this image represents a travel related health threat James Bond encountered in the popular films. They are categorized by color.

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Haley Weiss, Staff Writer

(Inside Science) -- Despite extensive travel and little to no regard for personal health, somehow one of our most well-traveled icons of page and screen, James Bond, has yet to find himself writhing on the floor of a hotel bathroom with food poisoning. According to data assembled by a team of researchers, it's only a matter of time before his luck catches up to him, because Bond is downright reckless when it comes to travel safety.

Bond is a paragon of many qualities -- charisma, marksmanship, personal introductions -- but for Teun Bousema, an epidemiologist studying malaria at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, Bond's seemingly turbo-charged immune system is the most impressive by far. He and colleague Wouter Graumans, who often travel to remote areas for research, have each fallen ill multiple times despite taking precautions. "At one point I had six different intestinal parasites," Bousema said. In April, as Graumans began his annual watch-through of all the Bond movies, the pair couldn't help but wonder, as Bousema puts it, "Does [Bond] actually adhere to the travel advice better than we do?"

Bousema and Graumans analyzed each of Bond's 86 international missions over the course of 25 movies, and cross-referenced those in identifiable countries with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel guidelines. A "single journey to outer space," they write, "was excluded from the analysis because travel advice for this region is currently unavailable."

Their findings revealed that his likely exposure to infectious agents (no, not the secret kind) is incredibly high. To start, the paper, published online in the journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, counts only two times that the British operative has washed his hands on screen, a level of neglect likely to get you sick even within your own home. In 1973's "Live and Let Die," Bond handles raw chicken with his bare hands to fend off an alligator attack, but doesn't stop to wash them before zipping off to a boat chase. And while finding time to squeeze in a good meal is difficult for any busy traveler, Bond's demonstrated penchant for unwashed fruit and raw oysters makes his diet a real who's who of foodborne pathogens, including listeria and vibrio.

"With the hand-washing issue the authors do not note the mess he has made to public toilet facilities -- including trying to drown one attacker in a hand basin," noted Nick Wilson, a professor of public health at the University of Otago in New Zealand who was not involved in this study. Wilson wrote his own retrospective of Bond's drinking habits, a severe chronic alcohol problem that Bousema and Graumans said is unlikely to help ward off infection.

The oft-inebriated agent's neglect extends beyond foodborne illness. His travels to a post-pandemic Japan in "You Only Live Twice" included poor social distancing and even mask-sharing, though his mask protocol was notably more correct in a few later films. In areas with high rates of mosquito-borne illness, Bond's lackadaisical approach has even meant sleeping with the windows open. DEET, the most common and effective insect repellent, was invented nearly two decades before the first Bond release, yet has never graced our hero's skin.

And speaking of skin, it should come as no surprise that James Bond's riskiest exposure to disease comes via a cavalcade of women. His profile indicates a statistically high likelihood of risky sexual behaviors (male, single, younger age, traveling without partner, alcohol and tobacco use etc., the authors write). Of his 59 sexual partners, only three appear frequently enough to evince a relationship of any real depth. Context clues such as onscreen clocks and hurried introductions make it likely that the other 53 did not stop to debrief with Bond about STI statuses, though Wilson notes that their vaccination status "can sometimes be inferred from a smallpox [vaccine] scar on their upper arm." It's difficult to tell if Bond himself was ever spreading anything, because nearly one-third of the women he sleeps with die before they can get to a doctor.

Resist the urge, however, to blame Bond alone for his horrendous travel preparations. "I never saw him receiving vaccines," said Graumans, but adequately preparing Bond for missions is solely MI6's responsibility as his employer. "If you can get your new car from Q, you also have time to get your vaccinations," Bousema added. "Given the central role that agents with the double 0 status have in international counter-terrorism activities," they wrote, "we sincerely hope that MI6 will take its responsibility seriously. We only live once."

Author Bio & Story Archive

Haley Weiss (@haleysweiss) is a staff writer and editor at Inside Science. Her work covering the intersection of science, health, and culture has appeared in The Atlantic, Scientific American, VICE, and more.