Fighting Diseases: The Germ Theory

Louis Pasteur

We’ve read about the huge numbers of people who died during the 19th century of such dreaded diseases as smallpox, cholera, and diphtheria. Here is a time-line for when medical science was able to eliminate these pandemics.

In 1796 Edward Jenner initiated immunization vaccinations for smallpox in 1796. Fifty years later, in 1844, the hypodermic needle was probably made by Francis Rynd in Dublin. The more formal experiments on the relationship between germ and disease were conducted by Louis Pasteur between the years 1860 and 1864. He discovered the pathology of the puerperal fever and the pyogenic vibrio in the blood and suggested using boric acid to kill these microorganisms before and after confinement. In 1861, Pasteur published his germ theory which proved that bacteria caused diseases. This idea was taken up by Robert Koch in Germany, who began to isolate the specific bacteria that caused particular diseases, such as TB and cholera. On July 6th, 1885, while studying rabies, Pasteur tested his first human vaccine on Joseph Meister, a nine-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog. The vaccine was so successful that it brought immediate glory and fame to Pasteur.

By the 1890s, wider acceptance of germ theory resulted in the emergence of the science of bacteriology. In 1955 the world’s first disposable needles became available.

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