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January 24, 1996

A Field Guide to Germs

Author Affiliations

University of California, San Francisco

JAMA. 1996;275(4):328. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530280080047

Wayne Biddle, a well-known reporter in the fields of science and technology, has published his third book, A Field Guide to Germs. He uses the term germ rather broadly.

After a longish introduction, all the subjects are arranged alphabetically. They include the most important causative agents of disease—viral, bacterial, protozoal, and so on. Most are listed by the name of the agent, others by the name of the disease, eg, typhoid and typhus. A few entries have little to do with conventional germs, and their inclusion is surprising. One finds a short paragraph called "Bites" and another called "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome." The germ connection of the latter is that monosodium glutamate is manufactured by Corynebacterium glutamicum. Seventy subjects are dealt with in all, from adenovirus to Zika fever.

It is clear that the author is particularly interested in historical aspects of the colorful epidemic diseases. Smallpox, cholera, plague, and yellow