Germs - The Mistaken Enemy

Germs – The Mistaken Enemy

Germs (bacteria and viruses) are everywhere, they are in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, in the water we drink and on everything we touch. We are constantly exposed to germs, yet for most of the time we remain perfectly well. If germs are the cause of disease, then why is it that we are not sick all the time?

If germs are the cause of disease, then why is it that millions of people can carry within them the germs of influenza, tuberculosis, tetanus, staphylococcus infections and many other diseases and yet remain perfectly well? In Europe during the latter part of the 19th century, virtually all city dwellers were infected with the tuberculosis germs, yet only a tiny proportion succumbed to the disease. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that over 25 million Americans are infected with the herpes virus, yet only a minority of these develop the genital sores associated with herpes. During the polio epidemics of the 1950’s, millions of people carried the polio virus, but again, only a fraction (less than 1%) developed the disease.

Germs - The Mistaken Enemy

If germs are the cause of disease, then how is it that in many diseases supposedly caused by a specific germ, that germ is not present? Sir William Osler, one of the most renowned physicians of his time claimed that the diphtheria germ was absent in 28 to 40% of diphtheria cases. According to Green’s Medical Diagnosis, the tuberculosis germ is often absent in the early stages of tuberculosis. Medical researchers have noted that many cases of AIDS have occurred in people with no trace of the AIDS virus. Now if you can develop the disease without the germ, then how can the germ be the cause?

Professor Rene Dubos, the most renowned microbiologist of his time and referred to by the Scientific American as one of the most influential ecological thinkers of the 20th century rejected the germ theory and went so far as to say “Viruses and bacteria are not the sole cause of infectious disease, there is something else.”