The field of science and medicine can be an astounding thing. Scientists and researchers are always finding new ways to battle disease, germs and poor health conditions, giving us longer life expectancy, as well as better quality of life.
Many of these cures can come about by using bacteria, that already exists within our bodies or environments and studying the effects of different drugs on them. We have also learned to use some germs for good.
For example, good microorganism can be used as probiotics to help promote a healthy digestive tract. How did we come across these bacteria, though? They are tiny microorganisms that are invisible to the naked eye, so how did the discovery of bacteria come about? Furthermore, what did we do before this discovery?
Life Before Germs
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Before germs were discovered, illness was believed to be punishment for wrongdoing or engaging in any behavior deemed ‘evil.’
Whenever large groups of people, like in villages for example, became sick with what we know now as plagues or pandemics, physicians and other citizens blamed poor sewage conditions or vapors carried through the air from swamps or stagnant waters.
Even some of the most brilliant minds of the time, such as English physician William Harvey, thought that conditions within the Earth, or any disturbances surrounding it, were the cause for any sickness that occurred.
This went on as late as the 16th century, a time when there were very few medical tools, much less anything close to microscopes or testing equipment to dig deeper. At the turn of the 17th century, however, the tides began to turn.
The Discovery of Germs
The introduction of the first generation of microscopes, which were made famous by English scientist Robert Hook and Dutch scientist Anton van Leeuwenhoek in their book Micrographia in 1665, changed the field of science forever. This enabled scientists to begin studying microorganisms. What came of this, though, wasn’t the discovery of what we know as germs, but instead the theory of spontaneous generation came about.
This theory is the belief in which living organisms develop from nonliving matter. For example, people once believed maggots just formed from decaying corpses. This theory was finally proven false in the 19th century. Scientists knew germs existed, but they weren’t yet aware of how they would help or hinder diseases.
Using Germs in Medicine
In the early 1700s, Lady Montague, the wife of a British ambassador, began studying how women in Constantinople would delay or prevent the spread of smallpox. She noticed by taking pus from smallpox victims and injecting healthy individuals with a small amount of the infected pus, the women were able to fend off the severity of the disease.
People may still have a mild form of the disease, but their immune systems were able to fight it because of the small amount and their bodies’ ability to become immune. Lady Montague then took her data back to England and began the practice of variolation on ill individuals there. This practice was modified over time, and is what we now know as vaccination.
While the process of discovering germs, as well as the uses of them in medicine, took many centuries, the results and continuous developments we are still witnessing today are directly linked to our healthier lifestyles.