Infection Control Today - 05/2002: Microbe of the Month

Microbe of the Month
By Roger P. Freeman, DDS

You really think your recent bunch of ICT lite-robes qualify for icon status? Have you no sense of history? YOU CAN'T HANDLE HISTORY! 'Cause if you could, you wouldn't have waited this long for my close-up. ( I am only responding now because of your offer of a nice, warm rodent.) Oh sure, those other B-class bugs can do some pathology, but we're talking history here ...and heading the hx column, there can be ... only ONE!

What else do I need to do? Three pandemics in the first 2K, not to mention a 1994 outbreak in India. First, in the fifth century, where I managed to wipe out half of Europe and ravage Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Heck, the "Dark Ages" were just a PR ploy to recuperate from my grand tour! Next, the lucky 13th (The Black Death), thanks to the tin hats and big rats. Just loved Venice, first "quarantine" and all. And lastly, in the 17th century, where I humbly accepted the title of The Great ----- of 1665. Pestilience! What a gig!

I'm a gram-neg, aerobic bacillus (unlike some of the imbacilli you have interviewed!) but really, what's in a lineage, anyway? No-pride epizot that I am, I'll ménage real time with both rodent and H. erectus. I typically room with my burrowing buddies, until I kill 'em off. That's when I jump ship and fly direct. The rat-fleas grab an amuse-bouche from their furry host, then inject me into one of you vertical types. Free to be me, this is where I sink to the occasion. I head for the pits and groin (not a lot of applicants for my job), where I cause some pretty ugly bumps, not to mention monster fever, prostration, hypotension, even bleeding into the skin.

I am deadly for half of all untreated victims, and can morph into pneumonic and septicemic modes, ratcheting up to 95 percent M. I can kill in a half day, live on in carcasses, in soil or in sputum for longer than you'd care to know. I'm rare in the United States, but I still can (and do) wax domestic. I remain on the A list for serious biowarfare buffs. In my honor, the CDC has crafted this reassuring message for American travelers abroad: "avoid rats."

For FDA approval of your new drug, or a really nice gift, whichever takes less time ... name my exalted bacterial self, name my disease and name my characteristic bumps.

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

E-mail your answers to, including your name, title and the name and location of your healthcare facility. The names of the first 25 readers supplying the correct answer will be placed in a quarterly drawing for infection control-related prizes from Infectious Awareables and Glo Germ Company. The answers to last month's mystery microbe are Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis A, C, D, E, F and G. For archived Microbe of the Month columns, log on to:

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