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The Mushroom Vaccine?

By Kim Everson, DVM

We all do it. We misunderstand a word or a phrase we hear in music or conversation and verbalize something amusing as a result. Recently my first grader informed me that she does not like “toxic water” but enjoys eating “octopus testicles.” I was glad to have less household competition for my favorite summer refreshment (tonic water), but explaining that her recent seafood dining experience involved tentacles not testicles produced several other awkward anatomy questions.

Adults are not immune from publicly garbling unfamiliar words or phrases. I’ll admit I walked around for some time talking about “lost leaders” in reference to a pricing strategy used by some big box department stores. In this strategy the company offers a ridiculously low-priced item to lure customers into the store knowing the average customer spends a substantial amount on more profitable items once there. Finally my accountant, chuckling, informed me that I probably meant to say “loss leader” unless there actually was a missing manager (a lost leader) in my scenario.

I’m sure that every professional out there–from plumber to physician–has heard some very funny alternatives to technical terms they use every day! It certainly happens in veterinary medicine, especially with vaccines.

I’d wager the oldest vaccine terminology mix-up involves “distemper.” The “distemper” vaccine is given to dogs and cats to protect against a collection of viral and bacterial diseases. It is not given to improve the behavior of pets with surly or unruly temperaments! Usually when I hear this mix-up, the client has requested the “temperament” vaccine with a smile and a laugh, and I’m not sure if he is putting me on! To set the record straight, the Distemper virus in dogs can cause serious if not fatal neurological, respiratory and gastrointestinal illness. In cats, feline distemper (actually panleukopenia virus) can result in dangerously severe immune suppression. Thankfully, the vaccines available for canine and feline distemper are very safe and effective.
Another common terminology goof-up involves the Kennel Cough vaccine. One of the important causative agents of Kennel Cough is a bacteria called Bordetella bronchiseptica. (Yeah, it’s a mouthful!) Each year, dogs that may come in contact with this infectious organism at kennels, dog parks or grooming facilities receive the “Bordetella” vaccine. It is understandable that some clients–who only have to think about this organism once a year when they get a reminder card from their veterinarian–remember just enough of the scientific name to request the “portabella” vaccine when making the appointment.
Please forgive us if we smile when you accidentally say your pet needs a “mushroom” vaccine. It’s a common enough mistake. We know what you mean, and we appreciate your effort to provide good veterinary care for your pet!

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