A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ORGANISMS AND ILLNESS
Ever notice how in an office, some people get “what is going around” and some people don’t? Getting sick isn’t just about being exposed to a virus or bacteria. We tend to have an oversimplified cause creates effect view of infections that is not very accurate.
In the late 1800’s, when science was predominantly a philosophy debated rather than based on experiments performed, there long existed two major and opposing views of how organisms created disease. For Louis Pasteur (for whom pasteurization was named), a disease was caused directly by microorganisms coming from outside the body, and that in order to treat it, we needed to kill the organisms. This is widely known as “the Germ Theory” and is the basis for the approach to disease that includes antibacterial drugs and the types of protective measures we take today. Pasteur’s main scientific rival, Antoine Bechamp, considered infectious disease to be the result of the interaction of organisms with the condition or terrain of the body. If the body were weakened, then an infection could set in. In addition, he believed that infections were often the result of poor tissue conditions and that the bacteria were often there as part of the cleanup of a damaged area.
Also at this time, a doctor named Semmelweis made the observation that washing one’s hands between patients giving birth significantly decreased the death rate of new mothers from uterine infections. It took a great deal of time to actually get physicians to believe that was a good idea!
Dr. Koch, (of Koch’s postulates, for those who remember this from school), wanted to show that an organism (eventually called Vibrio cholerae) caused cholera, a significant type of diarrhea with a high mortality rate. He publically drank a solution of the bacteria and ended up with a mild case of diarrhea. His scientific opponents used this failed attempt to infect himself with cholera as evidence that the organism was not the cause, even though it is now known to be the main organism behind this infection which still occurs worldwide.
So – what is the truth about infectious disease? Microorganisms can clearly play an important role, but so does the state of the person coming in contact with them! When we look at infectious disease, we have to look at both of these aspects reasonably, since clearly not everyone gets sick with similar exposures.