The germ theory began in the late 1880s and began as the understanding that organisms beyond the view of man could exist. Bacteria were the first found microscopic items, and took a decade to prove. Job Lewis Smith, a pediatric doctor in the late nineteenth century began studying outbreaks of cholera. No other doctors were able to explain why the children were getting ill. He worked in the slums of New York and blamed the unsanitary conditions for many diseases. This was during a time called the sanitary movement, which was purely a movement of many people to clean up their surroundings. Cleanliness and waste disposal were not key issues at this point in time. Sewer systems were non existent and often times human waste and trash built up in the streets. Due to the close living conditions this environment bread disease. At thins point no one understood that the condition they had created were breading grounds for disease. Smith had several explanations for the conditions of these children, but eventually led back to germs. He understood something was unseen and responsible and understood the source of the germs. It took him 10 years to discover the existence of germs.
Smith and other doctors understood the importance of conditions in which germs could exist, just never knew of their existence1. Joseph Lister, a British surgeon experimented with the sanitation of surgical instruments before procedures. He understood the outcomes of his procedures, just not why antiseptics worked. Lister was following the work of Louis Pasteur, and understood he needed to kill whatever was causing the patients to die after surgery2.
Before the theory of germs there were several explanations for disease, the first being Miasmas. It was understood the air carried disease, and sterilization had nothing to do with disease3. The second major theory was the Blood Generation Theory, which believed that disease was spontaneously created within the blood4....
References: 1. Alfred Yankauer. "Job Lewis Smith and the germ theory of disease." Pediatrics; Jun94 Part 1 of 2, Vol. 93 Issue 6, p936 Available from: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy1.lib.ou.edu/ehost/pdf?vid=7&hid=103&sid=cdeee2f0-807f-40b7-948f-dd2d3dc0779d%40sessionmgr104
2. Sir Joseph Lister "The Father of Modern Surgery" University of Dayton Available from: http://campus.udayton.edu/~hume/Lister/lister.htm
3. Graham A J Ayliffe & Mary P English "Hospital Infections: From Miasmas to MRSA" BMJ Journals October 2006 Available from: http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/reprint/327/7428/1410.pdf
4. "Brief History During The Snow Era (1913-58)" Encyclopedia Britannica 2001 Available form: http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/1859map/cholera_prevailingtheories_a2.html
5. "Why was the discovery of Germ Theory by Louis Pasteur in 1861 such a significant events in the history of medicine?" Passmores School & Technology College Available from: http://www.passmoresschool.com/history/mrmodqa7.htm
6. "Immunology & Infectious Disease" Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2006 Available from: http://www.hhmi.org/cgi-bin/askascientist/highlight.pl?kw=&file=answers%2Fimmunology%2Fans_020.html
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