Last week, I had the honor of attending the annual conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc (APIC) in New Orleans.  While the main focus of the conference was to help reduce and possibly eliminate infections in hospitals, it was great to be able to discuss the concept of hygiene and germs with people in a lighter and at times humorous way.

When people asked me who I am and what I do, I would tell them that I’m the “Germ Guy” and that I try to bring the concept of microbiology one step closer to home without using too much jargon or quite honestly, condescension.  When they asked me how I accomplish this, I always referred to one appearance I made on CTV about 2 years ago.  The piece was inspired by a question:
Can you share your ice cream with your dog?


Dogs have a potentially deadly bacteria in their mouths called Capnocytophaga that makes up part of their normal flora.  But the bacterium is only deadly if it gets into the bloodstream.  If you ingest it, nothing happens.

To put it more succinctly, there would be no health consequences if you share your ice cream with your dog.

But if you choose not to share, your pet may get upset with you and bite you causing the bacterium to enter your bloodstream and potentially kill you.

Microbiologically speaking, therefore, it may be safer to share an ice cream with your dog than to risk the consequences of keeping them ice cream deprived.

The responses were smiles, laughs and at times curious looks.  And why not? In the real world, this conclusion may seem ridiculous and even inane but then so is the fact that people don’t wash their hands after they have contaminated them with known fecal, respiratory or bloodborne pathogens.  So why should we criticize one idea and let a worse one get off scott free?  Especially considering one has led to fewer than a few hundred deaths in the last half decade while the other leads to thousands of illnesses a day.

It’s all about perspective I guess and I hope that I can offer a different angle that will be entertaining, a little eccentric, always esoteric and without a doubt, educational.

And if in your opinion I fail, please let me know. I’d rather be called a fool and learn from my mistakes than to hear nothing and continually appear like one.