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

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! Ninehundred 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 duringthose nice hospital renovation projects. Spores, galore! I'm found all over theplace, in soil (check those potted plants), foods, grains and also in yummybuilding 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 andbranching. (A lot like Aunt Thelma's hair.) My bi-polar infectious personalityranges from benign colonies of respiratory residence to some really bad b-vinvasions. I'm usually pretty harmless to the healthy among you; I will sorelymisbehave 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'mgetting most of my press today as a social "wallflower." Whaddyaknowabout that foul, creeping, smelly, moist, dark-stained Rorschach-o-rama next toyour sinks, your appliances, behind the fridge? Have you had an unexplained urgeto sue someone lately? After all, my freres and I are fast challenging ourasbestosis buds for the enviro-enemy Emmys. New vocabularies have sprung upwhere we doth sprang: "remediation," "abatement," "MVOCs"(nasty-gasto us civilians). Just for fun, have your walls tested; behold as the plasterpolice 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 themwith your alveoli. My formal name in French means "sprinkling" (lovethose romance languages), but it reads more like a vegetable. My species broshave names like flavus, restrictus, fumigatus. Sounds like the cast ofGladiator.

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

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

E-mail your answers to,including your name, title and the name and location of your healthcarefacility. The names of the first 25 readers supplying the correct answer will beplaced in a quarterly drawing for infection control-related prizes fromInfectious Awareables and Glo Germ Company. The answers to last month's mysterymicrobe are Legionella pneumophilia and Legionnaire's disease. For archivedMicrobe of the Month columns, log on to: