Germ theory of disease


Germ theory of disease

The germ theory, also called the pathogenic theory of medicine, is a theory that proposes that microorganisms are the cause of many diseases. Although highly controversial when first proposed, it is now a cornerstone of modern medicine and clinical microbiology, leading to such important innovations as antibiotics and hygienic practices.cite book | author = Madigan M, Martinko J (editors). | title = Brock Biology of Microorganisms | edition = 11th ed. | publisher = Prentice Hall | year = 2005 | isbn = 0131443291 ]

History

The ancient historical view was that disease was spontaneously generated instead of being created by microorganisms which grow by reproduction. The Atharvaveda is the first ancient text dealing with medicine. It identifies the causes of disease as living causative agents such as the yatudhānya, the kimīdi, the kṛimi and the durṇama. The atharvāns seek to kill them with a variety of drugs in order to counter the disease (see XIX.34.9). One of the earliest western references to this latter theory appears in "On Agriculture" by Marcus Terentius Varro (published in 36 BC), wherein there is a warning about locating a homestead in the proximity of swamps:

In "The Canon of Medicine" (1020), Abū Alī ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) stated that bodily secretion is contaminated by foul foreign earthly bodies before being infected.Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph.D. (2002). "Islamic Medicine: 1000 years ahead of its times", "Journal of the Islamic Medical Association" 2, p. 2-9.] He also discovered the contagious nature of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, and introduced quarantine as a means of limiting the spread of contagious diseases. [David W. Tschanz, MSPH, PhD (August 2003). "Arab Roots of European Medicine", "Heart Views" 4 (2).]

When the Black Death bubonic plague reached al-Andalus in the 14th century, Ibn Khatima hypothesized that infectious diseases are caused by "minute bodies" which enter the human body and cause disease. Another 14th century Andalusian physician, Ibn al-Khatib, wrote a treatise called "On the Plague", in which he stated:

Girolamo Fracastoro proposed in 1546 that epidemic diseases are caused by transferable seedlike entities that could transmit infection by direct or indirect contact or even without contact over long distances.

Italian physician Francesco Redi provided proof against spontaneous generation. He devised an experiment in 1668 where he used three jars. He placed a meat loaf in each of the three jars. He had one of the jars open, another one tightly sealed, and the last one covered with gauze. After a few days, he observed that the meat loaf in the open jar was covered by maggots, and the jar covered with gauze had maggots on the surface of the gauze. However, the tightly sealed jar had no maggots inside or outside it. He also noticed that the maggots were only found on surfaces that were accessible by flies. From this he concluded that spontaneous generation is not a plausible theory.

Microorganisms were first directly observed by Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who is considered the father of microbiology.

The Italian Agostino Bassi is often credited with having stated the germ theory of disease for the first time, based on his observations on the lethal and epidemic muscardine disease of silkworms. In 1835 he specifically blamed the deaths of the insects on a contagious, living agent, that was visible to the naked eye as powdery spore masses; this microscopic fungus was subsequently called "Beauveria bassiana" in his honor.

Ignaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician working at Vienna's Allgemeines Krankenhaus in 1847, when he noticed the dramatically high incidence of death from puerperal fever amongst women who delivered at the hospital (30%.) By contrast, home births were relatively safe. Investigating further, Semmelweis made the connection between puerperal fever and examinations of delivering women by doctors, and further realized that these physicians had usually come directly from autopsies. Asserting that puerperal fever was a contagious disease and that matter from autopsies were implicated in its development, Semmelweis made doctors wash their hands with water and lime before examining pregnant women, thereby reducing mortality from childbirth to less than 2% at his hospital. Nevertheless, he and his theories were viciously attacked by most of the Viennese medical establishment.

John Snow contributed to the formation of the germ theory when he traced the source of the 1854 cholera outbreak in the Soho neighborhood of London. The statistical analysis of the affected cases showed that the outbreak was not consistent with the miasma theory which was prevalent at the time. Contrary to the contagion model, he identified drinking water as the vessel for transmission of the disease. He found that cases occurred in the homes which obtained their water from the Broad Street pump, which, not coincidentally, was at the center of the outbreak.

Louis Pasteur further demonstrated between 1860 and 1864 that fermentation and the growth of microorganisms in nutrient broths did not proceed by spontaneous generation. He exposed freshly boiled broth to air in vessels that contained a filter to stop all particles passing through to the growth medium: and even with no filter at all, with air being admitted via a long tortuous tube that would not pass dust particles. Nothing grew in the broths, therefore the living organisms that grew in such broths came from outside, as spores on dust, rather than being generated within the broth.

Robert Koch was the first scientist to devise a series of proofs used to verify the germ theory of disease. Koch's Postulates were first used in 1875 to demonstrate anthrax was caused by the bacterium "Bacillus anthracis". These postulates are still used today to help determine if a newly discovered disease is caused by a microorganism.

Criticism

Though no one seriously disputes the germ theory outright, there are some who believe that it is incomplete as a theory of disease. The most commonly cited reason is the clinical inaccuracy of Koch's third postulate, which states that any susceptible animal infected with a pathogenic microbe should express symptoms. Koch himself later recanted this postulate after evidence showed asymptomatic carriers of typhoid and cholera.

Others' theories of disease accentuate the host resistance factors, arguing that germs are too ubiquitous to be viewed as the "cause" of disease, even if they are a necessary component of disease. These approaches typically accept the mechanics of the germ theory, but emphasize that heredity, public health, socioeconomic status, nutritional and/or immunologic status, or lifestyle are more important than germs themselves.Many people with same or similar exposure to same microbes, may not all get similar infection and outcome under normal environment. It can be immune defense strength dependent. But immune strength, susceptibilities and sensitivities related to particular microbes can also be dependent on instabilities and imbalances in the biochemistry of an individual.

As such, it can be thought that any deviation from homeostasis can also be a reason to invite and get any infection, and somewhat justify "miasma" or substance based theory. However, "miasma" has never been observed scientifically, and this hypothesis is not supported by existing evidence.

ee also

* Rudolf Virchow
* Antoine Bechamp

References

External links

* [http://www.mansfield.ohio-state.edu/~sabedon/biol2007.htm Germ Theory of Disease] —Supplemental Lecture (98/03/28 update) by Stephen T. Abedon
* [http://germtheorycalendar.com/ The Germ Theory Calendar] by William C. Campbell
* [http://www.creatingtechnology.org/biomed/germs.htm Science's war on infectious diseases]


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Germ theory — Germ Germ (j[ e]rm), n. [F. germe, fr. L. germen, germinis, sprout, but, germ. Cf. {Germen}, {Germane}.] 1. (Biol.) That which is to develop a new individual; as, the germ of a fetus, of a plant or flower, and the like; the earliest form under… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • germ theory — 1. Pathol. the theory that infectious diseases are due to the agency of germs or microorganisms. 2. Biol. biogenesis. [1870 75] * * * Theory that certain diseases are caused by invasion of the body by microorganisms. Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister …   Universalium

  • Miasma theory of disease — The miasmatic theory of disease held that diseases such as cholera or the Black Death were caused by a miasma (Greek language: pollution ), a noxious form of bad air . In general, this concept has been supplanted by the more scientifically… …   Wikipedia

  • Fermentation theory of disease — Fermentation Fer men*ta tion (f[ e]r m[e^]n*t[=a] sh[u^]n), n. [Cf. F. fermentation.] 1. The process of undergoing an effervescent change, as by the action of yeast; in a wider sense (Physiol. Chem.), the transformation of an organic substance… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Germ — can mean: * Microorganism, especially a pathogenic one; see Germ theory of disease. * Germ cell, a cell that has all the information to grow into a complete adult organism. * The Germ (periodical), a periodical established by the Pre Raphaelite… …   Wikipedia

  • theory — n. 1) to formulate a theory 2) to advance, advocate, present, propose, suggest a theory 3) to confirm; develop; test a theory 4) to disprove, explode, refute a theory 5) a pet; scientific theory 6) game; information; number; political; quantum;… …   Combinatory dictionary

  • Disease germ — Germ Germ (j[ e]rm), n. [F. germe, fr. L. germen, germinis, sprout, but, germ. Cf. {Germen}, {Germane}.] 1. (Biol.) That which is to develop a new individual; as, the germ of a fetus, of a plant or flower, and the like; the earliest form under… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Germ — (j[ e]rm), n. [F. germe, fr. L. germen, germinis, sprout, but, germ. Cf. {Germen}, {Germane}.] 1. (Biol.) That which is to develop a new individual; as, the germ of a fetus, of a plant or flower, and the like; the earliest form under which an… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Germ cell — Germ Germ (j[ e]rm), n. [F. germe, fr. L. germen, germinis, sprout, but, germ. Cf. {Germen}, {Germane}.] 1. (Biol.) That which is to develop a new individual; as, the germ of a fetus, of a plant or flower, and the like; the earliest form under… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Germ gland — Germ Germ (j[ e]rm), n. [F. germe, fr. L. germen, germinis, sprout, but, germ. Cf. {Germen}, {Germane}.] 1. (Biol.) That which is to develop a new individual; as, the germ of a fetus, of a plant or flower, and the like; the earliest form under… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English


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