Influence of the Discovery of the Germ Theory

Influence of the Discovery of the Germ Theory
Influence of the Discovery of the Germ Theory 2
Science and the development of new scientific technologies have played a critical role
in the proliferation of healthcare services to the masses. Health remains a key concern across
the world with scientists in various fields’ working day and night to develop better treatment
techniques. Although most scientist concentrate on the treatment of maladies, some scientists
have delved further into preventive solutions for diseases and general health complications.
Some health conditions and diseases such as Cancer and HIV remain virtually untreatable in
the present day, for example. As thus most scientists are working to develop preventative
formulas such as vaccines and antiretroviral therapies (ARV’s). Studies into diseases and
their causes depend mostly on the use of a microscope especially if the causative agent is
microscopic. This paper aims to discuss Antoine P. Leeuwenhoek’s contribution to the
medical field, his discovery and formulation of the germ theory and the impact of his
discovery at the time and in the present time. Furtherstill this paper aims to elucidate
developments in the medical field that are based off Leeuwenhoek’s Germ theory and the
contribution of the microscope in health care delivery across the world.
Antoine van Leeuwenhoek is credited with the discovery and formulation of the germ
theory. The germ theory postulates that most diseases are caused by the action of
microorganisms such as bacteria in or on the body. Although other scientists before
Leeuwenhoek’s had employed the use of a microscope to view micro-organisms,
Leeuwenhoek’s studies raised awareness on the implication of microorganisms on human
health. Microorganisms such as bacteria invade human bodies and might cause diseases. In
some instances, some microorganisms live in the human body and play a part in the ordinary
functioning of the body. However, if their concentration is altered, they may cause various
health conditions in the human body.
Although Leeuwenhoek postulated the germ theory, other scientists, before his time,
had theorised the influence of microorganisms on human health. Girolamo Fracastoro (1546),
Influence of the Discovery of the Germ Theory 3
for example, proposed the germ theory but his theory faced acute disdain by the scientists and
physicians of his time. During this period Galen’s miasma theory was used to explain the
occurrence of diseases and their causes. According to the miasma theory, diseases were
caused by miasmas. Miasmas refer to a noxious form of air that was postulated to cause
diseases such as cholera and the Black Death. Perhaps the scientists' belief in the miasmatic
theory limited their desire to delve further into the causes of diseases. The miasmatic theory
focused predominantly on the spread of diseases. Some scientists and physicians, however,
explained conditions such as obesity as result of miasmas. Other scientists described the
spread of illnesses using the contagion theory which states that diseases are spread
predominantly by direct contact.
The discovery of the microscope by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek also laid the ground for
the formulation of the germ theory. Leeuwenhoek (1677) was able to view small organisms,
which he called animalcules, on a sample of water under a simple microscope he had
constructed. However, Leeuwenhoek did not establish the link between the microorganisms
and diseases. Although scientists in later years saw micro-organisms in human blood, they
postulated that the microorganisms were a result and not the cause of the disease. This
presumption fits perfectly with the then famous theory of spontaneous generation.
The germ theory gained prominence in scientific circles after the works of Joseph Lister and
Ignaz Semmelweis. Joseph Lister (1867) is credited with the introduction of proper standards
of hygiene and cleanliness which immensely improved the success of surgical procedures in
the 1800s. As a surgeon, Lister noted the relationship between cleanliness and the occurrence
of “ward fever”. Before his proposed use of antiseptics, most patients would undergo a
surgical procedure successfully but die later due to postoperative infections. Another
scientist, Ignaz Semmelweis, is also credited with the use of antiseptics in surgical
procedures. Ignaz Semmelweis (1983) proposed the use of chlorinated lime solutions to wash
Influence of the Discovery of the Germ Theory 4
hands thus decreasing the probability of infections such as puerperal fever occurring. His
theory on the use of antiseptics to reduce child mortality in Obstetric hospitals, however, was
rejected as it conflicted with established health theories of his time. Both scientists credited
infections during surgical procedures to micro-organisms such as bacteria and germs in
general. These microorganisms could either be passed on by infected hands or surgical tools
thus further promoting Leeuwenhoek’s theory on the role of microbes in diseases occurrence
and spread. In later years, Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch provided the scientific proof of the
germ theory in the laboratory experiments.
Leeuwenhoek’s germ theory has played a critical role in the formulation of methods
to counter diseases over the years. In modern times, scientists and physicians view some
microorganisms as the primary cause of most diseases. As thus, these scientists have even
formulated microscopes with greater magnification power, such as the electron microscope,
to improve the discovery of diseases. Additionally, modern societies have embraced
cleanness and the use of hand sanitizers to improve the general health of their public.
Influence of the Discovery of the Germ Theory 5
Fracastoro, G. De contagione et contagiosis morbis et curatione. Venetiis [Venice]: Apud
heredes L [ucaeantonii] Iuntae [Florentini], 1546.
Lister, J. (1867). On the antiseptic principle in the practice of surgery. The Lancet, 90(2299),
Schierbeek, A. (1959). Measuring the invisible world: the life and works of Antoni van
Leeuwenhoek (No. 37). Abelard-Schuman.
Semmelweis, I. F. (1983). The etiology, concept, and prophylaxis of childbed fever (No. 2).
Univ of Wisconsin Press.

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