Infection Control Today - 12/2002: Microbe of the Month

Microbe of the Month
By Roger P. Freeman, DDS

By Roger P. Freeman, DDS

OK, so maybe my family (actually, my kingdom) doesn't technically qualify. But I am microscopic, relevant and considered -- in the finest circles -- to be an "honorary microbe." Oh, to be worthy of the MOM column! Nine hundred species should qualify me for something and what's a cell or two, anyway?

As for me, I've been known to "nosocomate" a ward now and then, doing my damage by inhalation from ventilation systems, and especially during those nice hospital renovation projects. Spores, galore! I'm found all over the place, in soil (check those potted plants), foods, grains and also in yummy building materials like plaster, sheet rock, wood and the like. As you can see, I'm heavily into the organic food thing.

I'm composed of gloms of hyphae strung together, growing by extension and branching. (A lot like Aunt Thelma's hair.) My bi-polar infectious personality ranges from benign colonies of respiratory residence to some really bad b-v invasions. I'm usually pretty harmless to the healthy among you; I will sorely misbehave in the suppressed. Or I might decide to couch-potize, lounge around, maybe just cause an allergic rx or two.

Now here's the fun part: although I can be a deadly dude in some forms, I'm getting most of my press today as a social "wallflower." Whaddyaknow about that foul, creeping, smelly, moist, dark-stained Rorschach-o-rama next to your sinks, your appliances, behind the fridge? Have you had an unexplained urge to sue someone lately? After all, my freres and I are fast challenging our asbestosis buds for the enviro-enemy Emmys. New vocabularies have sprung up where we doth sprang: "remediation," "abatement," "MVOCs"(nasty-gas to us civilians). Just for fun, have your walls tested; behold as the plaster police punch-biopsy them to look like fromage-suisse.

Also, there seem to be a lot of "experts" on the subject (me). Caution: many are of the homegrown variety and may not warrant entrusting them with your alveoli. My formal name in French means "sprinkling" (love those romance languages), but it reads more like a vegetable. My species bros have names like flavus, restrictus, fumigatus. Sounds like the cast of Gladiator.

For a lifetime supply of penicillium or a really nice gift, whichever is most irresistable, name my not-so genial genus and my high-profile, household mate.

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 Legionella pneumophilia and Legionnaire's disease. For archived Microbe of the Month columns, log on to:

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