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Medical Microbiology
  1. J R Kerr

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    Edited by C H Collins, P M Lyme, J M Grange and et al. Published by Hodder Arnold, 2003, £45.00 (paperback), pp 456. ISBN 0 34080 896 9

    If ever asked the question “what are flippers, springers, and hard swells?” in the pub quiz then this book, the eighth edition of a venerated text that first appeared in 1964, is where you should turn for the answers. The new edition has enlisted the help of an American editor and author in a bid to include a North American perspective and, although there are nods in this direction (NCCLS susceptibility testing—for example), this is essentially a text that will appeal to a mostly UK centric audience. The book acknowledges that many microbiology laboratories, clinical or otherwise, still rely to a very great extent on traditional hands on benchwork and the detail in which this type of working is covered has always been this book’s strong point. However, in this new edition one senses a reluctance to bow to change and wave farewell to some old friends. Do we really need to know about the care and maintenance of glass Petri dishes (“still popular in some areas”); does anyone still use Stamp’s method for preserving cultures or the Henry technique in isolating listeria? Nevertheless, the book does cover automated and molecular techniques, but some are given more weight than others—for example, there is an in depth discussion of impedance instrumentation, whereas real time polymerase chain reaction is dealt with in a single paragraph. Diagrams to illustrate the principles behind some less widely known techniques might also have been of value.

    The book has never confined itself to methods used by medical microbiologists and has always placed a strong emphasis on techniques used in food, water, and environmental laboratories. This is no bad thing because there is a considerable degree of overlap between the disciplines—clinical laboratories may wish to perform air or environmental sampling when investigating outbreaks of nosocomial infection—for example, and biomedical scientists and medical microbiologists (especially those in training) would benefit from knowledge of how to assess foodstuffs for microbiological safety. Conversely, however, there are other areas where the clinical and non-clinical disciplines diverge a little too much, and the clinical fraternity is unlikely to find much interest in, for instance, performing spore counts on gelatin used in canned ham production or in sampling vats, hoppers, and pipework. Coverage of non-clinical methods has also encroached on the space devoted to culture and identification of medically important pathogens—methicillin resistant Staphyloccus aureus is breezed over in two short paragraphs and reference to glycopeptide resistance in enterococci is restricted to two statements that Enterococcus casseliflavus and Enterococcus gallinarum manifest low level resistance to vancomycin. Perhaps future editions of the book could have two iterations—one for food/water/environmental microbiologists, with less emphasis on clinical methods, and one for workers in clinical laboratories in which the food and other sections are reined in to a more appropriate level.

    Despite these criticisms, there really is much to recommend this book, with handy chapters on laboratory safety, quality assurance, sterilisation and disinfection, enumeration of bacteria, and others, which are relevant to all laboratories. It would certainly be a worthwhile purchase for many laboratories (although not for virology laboratories: the book is a virus free zone), especially those where trainees are to be found. And flippers, springers, and hard swells? They are all types of can deformation produced by gas producing food spoilage organisms.