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The first thing you’ll know about Stenotrophomonas maltophilia is that it’s a mouthful as most bacteria names are. There is no known nickname for it, but it does have former names:Pseudomonas maltophilia and Xanthomonas maltophilia. Should it ever be known in the realm of show business, it can go by the moniker TBFKAPM or XM (The Bacterium Formerly Known As…). It is allegedly common throughout the environment, in both soil and water, but it more frequently causes harm when present in water.

How is this particular bacterium described? Its technical description is thus worded:Stenotrophomonas maltophilia is an obligate aerobe and a motile, gram-negative, non-fermentative bacillus. Here is a dissected explanation of the seeming gibberish. It is a bacillus, which means that it is a disease-causing kind of bacterium. This particular organism is motile, which means that it is capable of motion; gram-negative, which means that it does not retain the violet stain used in Gram’s method, which, in turn, indicates that it is multidrug-resistant; and non-fermentative, which means that it cannot catabolise glucose. It is also an obligate aerobe, which means that it needs oxygen to grow.

It probably had you at “disease-causing bacterium,” and every other confusing modifier became but peripheral. It is harmful – an opportunistic pathogen, which is especially dangerous for those suffering a weakened immune system. Individuals with existing conditions such as malignancies and cystic fibrosis or those who are undergoing treatment involving chemotherapy, organ transplantation, broad-spectrum antimicrobial therapy, respiratory therapy equipment, and indwelling catheter are at higher risk of infection. Incidentally, the bacterium may be found in contaminated medical solutions, such as saline rinses and humidifier water, as well as in contaminated medical devices, such as catheters and breathing tubes.

In a hospital setting, the bacterium may be transmitted directly to patients through ingestion, bathing, use of contaminated surgical instruments, implantation of contaminated medical devices, contact with contaminated surfaces, or colonisation of the oropharynx from tap water. Infection of the bacterium may lead to bacteremia, meningitis, pneumonia, endocarditis, urinary tract infection, soft tissue infection, and ocular infection.

This bacterium, as mentioned above, is resistant to various drugs. There is also no known vaccine that prevents infection. However, combination therapy involving trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole and ticaccillin/clavulanate or trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole and ceftazidime may be given for those with life-threatening infections.

If there is anything that will convince you to regularly test water, especially that which is used in hospitals, this will. Bacteria are never the stuff of dreams and whimsy, but when they’re resistant to drugs, then they reach new levels of vileness.

+Duncan Hollis