Each and every single phenomenon of vital existence is in a real sense a mystery.
There is no denying there are mysterious phases in bacteriology as yet far from being penetrated by rational analysis. Much as has been learned about the habits of the bacterium, much as has been stated as to its definite function in the economy of life, in both normal and wholesale environments (as in nutritive foods) as well as in relation to diseased states of the human family, this microorganism, this minute germ, this active, infinitesimal form of life, is an entity whose power and place are as yet incompletely comprehended.
It is certainly in order to insist upon such definite contention, since a brief review of the science of bacteriology as presented to the world by its masters will evidence the accuracy of such statement. Let it be limited, however, in this discussion to the relation of the microbe not to beneficent and constructive activities in the great realm of nature, but to the roles which have been so conspicuously assigned to it in all the range of human disorders, to disease, to pathology. This is the important filed in which every one is personally concerned. Everybody is interested to know whether the germ causes the disease, whether obliterations of the germ will result in cure of the disease, whether methods of obliteration of the germ in cases of disease will result in benefit to the patient.
Successive postulates in bacteriological science have been presented, each of which in turn has been proffered by its author as “a basis of argument too obvious to require proof.” Well, for a time this may have seemed to be so, but always some ghostly factor would appear, requiring a new postulate, so that begging the question as to the germ being the first cause of the disease has become the rule.
Perhaps every new postulate as it has issued fresh from the laboratory on the eve of some new and important discovery has been well worded to meet the ethics of scientific demand, but in the present discussion we are concerned with the practical demands-whether or not scientific-they have made on the public. It is the effect on the human patient which constitutes the crucial question in all matters related to medical science and medical art.
As to the microbes themselves, they are marshalled in splendid array by the command of students and scholars in this field who have devoted themselves to this labor. The identification and verification of pathogenetic microbes progresses with speed and skill on the part of the laboratory worker. The confirmed association of a certain microorganism with a certain disease is now one of the facts of pathology, whatever variations may enter into this association or indeed, if at times the association may seem not to exist in a given case. Diphtheria is an example or irregularity. It is perhaps the best instance we have wherein the role of the specific germ suffers many deflection.
Now, while it is largely true that in some instances microorganisms cause disease and entail much of the laborious work of every-day life, it is also true that bacteria are our most important coadjutors and friends – THEODORE J GRAMM. M.D.
Bacteriology must undergo important changes before its standards as now formulated can be accepted as reasonable.
A single ounce of soil has been calculated to contain a hundred and seventy million bacteria, and a single bacterium under favorable conditions can, it is said, multiply in twenty – four hours to one hundred and eighty millions. If noxious to the part of nature which man is, they are not noxious to nature as a whole; on the contrary, they rightly, serve it by killing him when, being weaker life, he is a proper subject to be killed and rendered innocuous, which he is apt to think he never is. Hostile as the typhoid bacillus and other bacilli are to him, they do not hurt in when he is strong and fit to live; for they are often found inhabiting his body in typhoid-carries when he appears to be in quite good health. Are they then functionless, as supposed, in respect of him, only waiting harmlessly on guard to act and end him at the proper time? – HENRY MAUDSLEY, M.D., from Organic to Human, Macmillan, London, 1916, page 158.
The bacterium as the direct and specific cause of its defined malady is such a plausible item of common sense that one seems plain ignorant to doubt it, much less to question it. And yet conjectures will crop up in the plain mind. Questions like; Why do the germs always select the weak subject? Why not take good healthy organism for their attack? Why pick on poor soil, when there is plenty of good? Why wait till the good soil becomes poor before beginning to make war? What are the germs doing in so-called “carriers” while they refuse to make the carrier sick.