November 18, 1996 12:00 PM

by Wayne Biddle

First, the bad news: There really are billions of unfriendly organisms out there. But judging from this irreverent A-to-Z handbook of the top-ranked bacteria, viruses and fungi among us, there are only 100 or so we really need to worry about.

Biddle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, serves up gory details (ebola, E. coli), curious connections (a strain of strep bacteria is what makes yogurt creamy) and historical sidenotes (sarsaparilla was once thought to cure syphilis, “perhaps explaining why otherwise tough cowboys asked for it”). Unfortunately he can only offer common wisdom for dodging fates like guinea worm disease, in which ingested larvae grow through your skin: Stay out of Africa and don’t drink the water. (Anchor, $12.95)

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