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Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: Infections and Their Cause, A Historical Review

The past weekend I was astounded yet again, by a group of friends who were spouting off lines from movies dating back to the mid-1980's.  I categorically admit, I suck at trivia - especially pop trivia naming off movies and TV shows or the like.  When picking teams for trivia games, I'm that "unpopular" kid who always gets picked last.  I do however, have an uncanny knack for locking away information about science-based topics.  Do you know what rabbits eat their droppings?  I do...and that was from high school biology class...

It was for that reason that Infections and Their Cause, a Historical Review by Bill Newsom is so fascinating.  Dr. Newsom is a medical microbiologist interested in the history of bacteriology and infection.  The compilation of articles originally published in the British Journal of Infection Control interspersed with diagrams, illustrations and descriptions of his personal experiences make for a most enjoyable read.

Prior to our ability to identify living organisms in the late 19th century, infection was considered to be due to malevolence of evils spirits, witchcraft, or the wrath of god.  Eventually more "scientific" theories emerged such as miasmas consisting of putrid air from decaying animal or vegetable matter, stagnant water or cesspools.  Eventually, it began to be understood that disease was somehow spread from infected patients.

The series of articles found in the book provides a wealth of information and history on the life and work of the founders of the field of infection control and the similarly to Semmelweiss, conclusions drawn by these icons were not initially accepted - even if good evidence was provided.  Where would we be today if Louis Pasteur had not disproved the theory of spontaneous generation with proof that infections were caused by living organisms or Robert Koch and his colleagues identifying the causative organisms of most bacterial diseases by laboratory methods, many of which are still in use today!

Where would we be if John Snow had not recognized that sewage in rivers and streets were a source of contaminating drinking water?  His removal of the Broad Street pump handle from the well that supplied drinking water to residents of Broad Street helped reduced the cholera rates of users of that pump!  Of course the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1929 and its development into a clinical agent by Florey and colleagues was the tipping point if you will for the discovery of a number of antibiotics in the  1940s to the 1960s.

This collection of articles is chalk filled with tidbits of science that will be forever locked away in my grey matter and would make a welcome addition to the bookshelf of microbiologists, infection preventionists and geeks like me who are interested in the history of infection and infection prevention.

Bugging Off!


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