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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Monday, May 7, 2007

Short White Coat: Bugs on the brain

Short White Coat is a blog written by first-year Harvard medical student Ishani Ganguli. Ishani's posts appear here, as part of White Coat Notes. E-mail Ishani at shortwhitecoat@gmail.com.

Medical school has made a hypochondriac out of me. As weíve been learning to sharpen our diagnostic acuity, Iíve self-diagnosed everything from blisters to brain hemorrhages -- and thankfully, I am almost always wrong. But now that weíre knee deep into microbiology, meeting the cast of minuscule characters that are harmless and insidious in turn, my paranoia may be slightly more justified.

We play with these bugs nearly every day in micro lab, staining them and feeding them in different ways to figure out their identities. The bacteria responsible for meningitis were taken off the roster this year (just in case), but I have to say, Iím not too thrilled about the notion of acquiring a skin-peeling staph infection or gonorrhea either.

My tendency to squirt unidentified liquids into the air during lab does little to ease the mind. And in fact, several classmates have come down with mysterious sore throats and achiness, and bacterial conspiracy theories abound. Stay tuned to Short White Coat for news of a major outbreak....

The good news is that they also teach us how to protect ourselves, in micro lab and elsewhere. Alcohol-based hand cleansers are the way to go, we learned; if youíre using soap and water, you need to scrub your hands for 15 seconds to get the same effect. It doesnít sound like a lot of time, but try counting to 15 the next time youíre at the sink. Itís definitely changed the way I go about my day, especially since the medical school is equipped with Purell dispensers at every turn of a hallway.

Sometimes a lesson learned in kindergarten takes 17 or so years of further education to sink in, I suppose.

Posted by Ishani Ganguli at 11:38 AM
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