Years ago, my pulmonologist spouse threatened to start a new journal called “Spit? or Sputum?”
The idea was rooted in our challenge, when we were medical interns, tasked with obtaining sputum (the thick mucus from deep in the lung that we needed) to spot the predominant organism responsible for a patient’s pneumonia. When done correctly, a patient would bring up a deeply-coughed sputum sample teeming with many copies of one species, that would jump out in technicolor when the correct stain was applied, and voila! We have a diagnosis under the microscope. When the patient gives us spit, however, we would see a veritable smorgasbord of organisms, and a disappointing lack of clarity.
So often, when collecting such sputum samples from patients (“Sir, please cough something up from deep inside”), we ended up with “spit”, the mucus that is generated in the mouth, home to millions of species of organism, and unhelpful in the diagnosis of pneumonia. When we run from the patient’s bedside to the closest microscope, we apply our stains and breathlessly wait to see: was it truly sputum? or just more spit?
Hence the burning question:
Is this SPIT or SPUTUM?
Not that funny? I guess you had to be there. Nevertheless, the title remains stuck in my head.
Reading this article brought that random thought out of the depths.
Fascinating read: researchers identified that Candida Albicans, a common fungus, is often present in our mouths. In this moist, seemingly ideal growth environment, does this organism not cause yeast infections in everyone?
It is a story worthy of Sherlock Holmes. From oral mucus to sugars to glycans to oxygen linking and then …
This is science AND science writing that educates and elevates. Worth a read.