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

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

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

Then in 1995 I got even scarier, allegedly jumping species again, this timeto -- guess who? I got deadly with 100 of your Brit cousins, not to mention the4.5 million bovines sacrificed due to the potential SRMs (specified riskmaterials) in their crumpets. This is about the time the Nobels began calling mea "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, fatalseries of short circuits. Besides being terrifying, I'm also a tough, nearlyindestructible little helix, even when put to the toaster.

So far, I haven't received my visa to the colonies, but then again, I cansnooze for anywhere from 5 to 20 years, depending on my form. Although your riskappears pretty small so far, maybe 1 case in 10 billion servings, you wannaplace 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 thehunter-gatherers nor the elk are sleeping well these days.

For an offalacious, ruminant-fed, vintage '86 chili-cheeseburger or a reallynice gift, whichever may keep your gaiter straighter, name my abbreviated self,and the common handles given my bovine and human mates -- and mercifully, don'tsweat the spelling!

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

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