Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bacillus non subtilis

Among the myriad pokes and prods we're subjected to in the Army is the requirement to be vaccinated against anthrax. It's not just *one* vaccination (a la the tetanus shot we get every five years or so).


It's six -- for starters!

Then it's one every year after that. Ugh.

I just had my sixth, a couple of days ago.

Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, is just another Gram-positive, endospore-forming rod-shaped bacterium. Its cousin, Bacillus subtilis, is often studied in undergraduate (and sometimes even high-school) microbiology classes, and was the first single-living bacterium to have its genome completely sequenced (1997). [How's that for a 'fun fact to know and tell'?]

Unlike Bacillus subtilis, which is widely available and easy to study, Bacillus anthracis can only be studied in certain, high-security labs, because of its potential for weaponization.

But I digress.

I've gotten vaccinated against the flu every year now for nigh onto twenty years, I suspect. It's something of an annoyance, but not a big deal at all. Standing around in line at Long's Drugs waiting to get the injection can actually be an interesting experience. I've met some fascinating people that way, most of them old.

Kind of like me.

Getting the anthrax vaccination is entirely different from getting a flu shot.

Or rather, the *aftermath* of the anthrax vaccination is altogether different. The injection site after a day or two feels as though someone has taken a baseball bat and attempted to drive in the winning run, not realizing that it's an upper arm, and not a ball. (I'm vaguely reminded of the wonderful neurobiology as recounted in the book, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.")

Just ask my upper arm today!

In any event, there's nothing subtle about being vaccinated against Bacillus anthracis!

And now you know. [Cue stars arcing across the TV screen.]

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ
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