Pandemicals June 2004

Surveillance for the Tortured ICP
A shallow, unscientific 'path-pourri' guaranteed to postpone lunch

By Roger Freeman, DDS
Originally published in Infection Control Today

Editor's note: We welcome Roger Freeman, DDS, author of the popular Microbe of the Month column, back to ICT's pages. For those of you scratching your head at the name of this new column, Roger says to think 'pandemic' and 'comical.' Get it now?


A team of researchers from the London School of Tropical Medicine conducted an international study on what really disgusts people. A follow- up study was then done by the BBC, who asked folks to rank disgusting pictures on a scale from one (not very disgusting) to five (major yuck). In both studies, people found disgusting things, well ... disgusting! Body fluids, lice, festerati, colorful repugnatia ... they all evoked what may be a very ancient emotion, one that evolved with us to give us an instinct to avoid disease. What a shock! The pound-sterling at work. Note: The Australians were statistically the most yuck-resistant to gross-out. (Put another what? on the barbie?!)

NNIS (Stands for 'Not Noticing Infectious Stuff')

The data dump is in, and the new survey says ... depending on the geography, anywhere from two to 12 unsuspectables per hundred will bite the i-bullet during their high-risk stay. Median hospital stays can increase four to 22 days over the uninfected; median costs can increase from $2,700 to $11,000 ... and this is in the U.S.! If you're thinking about that surgical cruise or that tropical tuck, you may want to check out the local infectometer first. The perspectivo: figures are always startling, especially when considering that promising or effective drugs can be killed by serious complications in just 1 per million. Grossly longer odds, but much better (worse?) press.


If you were to go sub-crevicular - no, not attack a post office - but simply examine the microbes between teeth and gums, you'd likely find entire brigades of potential pathogens. More than 500 organisms have been identified to date, and the sulcus sleuths are running out of fingers and toes. Bite-o-gram from the house DDS: break up the brigands STAT! with floss, pick, barbed wire, missiles ... whatever! The enemy troops marshal up toute-suite following meals - often within 20 minutes - so the sooner the shock, the better. Politically correctly (or not), pre-empt or start check under 'p' for periodontists!


Do your fingers parch, dessicate, crack, bleed or otherwise scream as if manicured with a Cuisinart? Here's a tip that might help, when all other slathers fail: gulp ... diaper ointment! The anecdotals have it that A&D infa-bottom spread is replete with vitamins A and D in a cod liver (gulp, again) and petroleum base - good both as a skin humidifier and a moisturizer. Haven't tried it yet, but maybe the secure among you will do some trials and report back. Just don't confuse the mission.


Your shower curtain is likely teeming with some bacterial opportunists capable of infecting wounds or sickening the immuno-suppressed and elderly. A University of Colorado microbiologist has studied this problem and discovered that taking a shower aerosolizes the scumbags, engulfing the unwary in bacteria. He strongly suggests frequent washing of the shower curtain every few weeks. Probably good to know ... maybe that's what got into the football coach ...


Piercing the upper ear (cartilaginous part) has lead to a number of infections in kids ages 10 to 19, a group of whom had their ears poked recently in a jewelry kiosk in Oregon. Pseudomonas aeroginosa turned out to be the villain, leaving four patients 'cosmetically deformed.' Think cauliflower. Apparently, antibiotics do not work well on the poorly vascularized cartilage, blocking the get-well juice from its target. Obvious lesson (we guess): pierce something soft. Ouch.


I'm primarily a foodborne freeloader, mostly in coqs-sans-vin or in dairy doodles. Depending on my tailor, I can do typhus, or, if in the mood, a simply wretched case of food poisoning. My case load is probably in the millions, although mostly I'm unreported or misunderstood. I'm oxidase-negative, whatever that means; but then, who cares when you're arching your guts out. Oh yeah, I can infect kids via you-know-what from those healthy pets with a glowing coat. Better cook me or you'll surely be courting the porcelain princess. ID my squiggly-looking self, whose name sounds like a former rebel without a cause. (We'll reveal the answer in the next column.)

Pandemicals wanted. Are you privy to an interesting, educational or even useful infecto-byte? Send it to:,  along with a trackable - preferably legitimate - reference source. If it makes the editor's cut, you'll receive a miniscule citation and an extraordinarily modest gift.

Roger Freeman, DDS, is a dentist and educator who obviously inhaled too much tooth dust in 30 years of practice. He is currently president of Infectious Awareables, Inc. (, an occasionally for-profit company producing science based awareness products.