Naomi Datta

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 10 February 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b389
  1. Geoff Watts

    Clinical microbiologist who saw the importance of transmissible resistance to antibiotics

    In the late 1950s Dr Naomi Datta, then assistant lecturer in bacteriology at the Postgraduate Medical School in West London, was in need of a research project. A 1959 outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium among patients and staff at the adjacent Hammersmith Hospital provided a way to fulfil that need. What Datta couldn’t know when she began investigating was that her findings would not only shape the rest of her career but also earn her a place in the microbiology textbooks.

    The task was one for which she was well equipped. After her graduation from West London Medical School in 1946 she had trained in bacteriology and spent a decade working for the Public Health Laboratory Service. To look into the Hammersmith outbreak she collected samples while it was happening and subsequently put them through several tests. Her aim was to find out if the epidemic strain of the bacterium responsible had remained stable in its passage through a succession of human hosts. Among the checks she performed was one for drug resistance. Fifteen of the patients tested turned out to be resistant …

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