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A Clinician’s Dictionary of Pathogenic Microorganisms
  1. P A Riley

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Edited by J H Jorgenson, M A Pfaller. Published by ASM Press, 2004, £29.95 (paperback), pp 282. ISBN 1 55581 280 5

This little pocket sized dictionary is primarily designed to provide clinicians with a convenient means of understanding the clinical features of the microorganisms they encounter. In most situations, this will be when they try to make sense of microbiology reports or understand published articles. As a practising clinical microbiologist, much of my time is taken up in trying to get clinicians to make sense, so I welcome any help that is on offer. The dictionary aims to include information on all the common microbes that are likely to be encountered, as well as some of the more esoteric species that even most microbiologists might struggle to write a few lines about. The dictionary is divided into sections for bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. As a microbiologist, this is second nature to me, and I know instantly which section to look at for each individual species, but I do wonder whether this is the most useful format for clinicians who may sometime struggle to remember whether a particular organism is a virus, a bacterium, or other. In the UK, we confuse our clinical colleagues at the best of times; in my laboratory, Treponema pallidum, Chlamydia trachomatis, Legionella pneumophila, and Toxoplasma gondii are all honorary viruses. Throughout the dictionary, most of the entries are for individual microorganisms rather than for diseases, and a knowledge of some microbiology is assumed again. For example, there is no entry for anthrax; relevant information on that disease is found under the entry for Bacillus anthracis. Each of these entries provides some brief information on taxonomy, but more importantly, the emphasis is on the clinical importance, and where relevant provides references to important review articles. Old and now obsolete species names are included and are usefully cross referenced to the current name where the information will be found. Some of these old names are now very old indeed; hopefully, these days not many laboratories still report the presence in sputum of Pfeiffer’s bacillus or send out serology reports for the Eaton agent, but I found the inclusion of these names interesting for historical reasons. However, with the advance of molecular biology, taxonomy is in constant flux, and the dictionary covers the recent important changes. Even though this book is not intended for microbiologists, I still learnt a great deal—for example, the new classification of the nutritionally deficient streptococci that were formerly Abiotrophia and are now Granulicatella. In addition to the organism entries, there are a few more general sections, which are also listed alphabetically, such as the polymerase chain reaction. There is also a very useful section on normal flora, but rather confusingly this appears alphabetically out of sequence at the end of the bacteriology section. As with most books, there were a few minor errors, but nothing that seriously detracts from what is throughout an extremely comprehensive dictionary for its size.

The publishers claim that no other portable source of information provides the type of information included. This may indeed be true, but these days with the demise of the white coat in UK hospitals there is a lack of pockets for pocket books. If a pocket does become available the competition is fierce. Despite this, I believe that this is a useful little dictionary and would recommend that a copy be available in all clinical areas, if not pockets, where infection may be encountered. The dictionary is also available in PDA format as an eBook for those who have the suitable equipment nestling in…, well yes, their pockets. Practising microbiologists and other pathologists would also find this dictionary an easy way to keep abreast of the recent taxonomic changes. I enjoyed reading it, although this may not surprise my friends and colleagues who think that I only ever read dictionaries anyway.