Infection Control Today - 02/2003: Microbe of the Month

Microbe of the Month
By Roger P. Freeman, DDS

So, which would you rather deal with, the devil you know ... or me? 'Cause if you're bacteriophagic, viromanic, paristologic or fungally fixated, I'm definitely not your MOM. I'm just "soooo, new!" Not RNA, not DNA, not even the NBA, I'm nothing but a PrPC (good) turned to an untwisted PrPsc (this is bad). I may be a few aminos shy of a full protein, but you can bet your bioassay I've got your gangs-lia's attention.

I first staggered (haltingly) on the scene, across the pond, in 1986, making serious shakers out of moo-vers, much like my earlier bouts with the wooly-sweater flock that caused the little lamb chops to "scrape" off their own coats. Anyone thinking zoonotics around here?

Then in 1995 I got even scarier, allegedly jumping species again, this time to -- guess who? I got deadly with 100 of your Brit cousins, not to mention the 4.5 million bovines sacrificed due to the potential SRMs (specified risk materials) in their crumpets. This is about the time the Nobels began calling me a "variant." How rude!

I work infectiously by converting common amino blocks into flattened out, non-conformist types. Moving on, I go to work on brain cells, leaving them a "spongy" mass of misfiring neuropaths, leading to a maddening, fatal series of short circuits. Besides being terrifying, I'm also a tough, nearly indestructible little helix, even when put to the toaster.

So far, I haven't received my visa to the colonies, but then again, I can snooze for anywhere from 5 to 20 years, depending on my form. Although your risk appears pretty small so far, maybe 1 case in 10 billion servings, you wanna place a bet? Oh, you might keep a suspicious eye on the continuing CWD mystery (think: wasting disease) in your Rocky Mountain high and in Canada. Neither the hunter-gatherers nor the elk are sleeping well these days.

For an offalacious, ruminant-fed, vintage '86 chili-cheeseburger or a really nice gift, whichever may keep your gaiter straighter, name my abbreviated self, and the common handles given my bovine and human mates -- and mercifully, don't sweat the spelling!

Roger P. Freeman, DDS, is a dental infection control consultant and president of Infectious Awareables, at

The answers to last month's mystery microbe are West Nile Virus and West Nile Fever. For archived Microbe of the Month columns, log on to:

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