by Carol Andrews

 My obsession with germs began when I was in the 10th grade and my biology class performed an experiment using samples taken from the gymnasium showers and locker rooms. When we viewed the bacteria from those samples under a microscope, I found the slides strangely fascinating and intensely revolting at the same time. Disinfectants became my best friends.

Soon after that experiment, I learned that until the end of the 19th century, the theory that germs cause disease was not widely accepted. Thorough hand washing was not valued by physicians. Consequently, diseases were often carried by physicians from ill to healthy patients, and from the autopsy table to the bedside. Knowing this, when I first heard stories about eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, who carried around a bar of soap and wore tissue boxes on his feet, I felt some affinity with the recluse. Of course, the more I heard, the more I realized that Hughes was obsessed way beyond reason; and I was not about to trade in my pumps for tissue boxes.

By the time you read this column, I will have attended the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Atlanta. This year, as in past years, I am sure that more than one speaker will mention the importance of hand washing in preventing infections from pathogenic organisms. Health care-acquired infections are a leading cause of death in the United States, and there are numerous reports of new pathogens that are threatening to spread from jails and hospitals into general populations. Be sure to take a look at our Tech Focus section, which begins on page 39. This month, we feature infectious disease-related products used in the clinical lab.

Speaking of industry meetings, I attended The Dark Report’s Executive War College meeting in New Orleans last month. This meeting was informative, stimulating, and well-organized. For 2 days, I was a kid in the candy shop as I selected sessions to attend. The program included many discussions about molecular diagnostics and lab innovations, and several case studies wherein presenters shared their successes. The meeting, which also provided an excellent opportunity for networking, is geared to anyone involved in laboratory medicine: lab managers, pathologists, and administrators. If you’ve never attended this meeting, consider adding it to your schedule for next year: May 8–11, 2006, Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel, New Orleans. For more information visit

Until next month . . . .

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Carol Andrews
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