Germs are the cause of many of our most serious diseases. They can be thought of as the seeds of disease. When they enter the body they grow and multiply, and the harvest of their growth is fever and sickness.
There are five principal kinds of germs: viruses, rickettsia, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. We shall also consider with these some of the parasites such as tapeworms, roundworms, and bilharzia. All are too small to be seen by the unaided eye, except for the worms; but the eggs of the worms are also very tiny.
HOW GERMS SPREAD
All germs and eggs of worms enter the body in one of three ways:
- through the mouth in food or drink;
- Through the nose or mouth in the air we breathe;
- Through the skin, usually where it has been cut or injured, or with the aid of the bite of an animal or insect.
Only a few germs (for example, certain stages of hookworms and bilharzia) can pass through healthy skin. Because they are too small to be seen without some special instrument like a microscope, it is difficult to understand germs, but we can be certain there are germs anywhere there is much dirt, even if we cannot see them. Germs and dirt almost always live together. • ‘
Where do germs come from? Most germs that cause disease, in humans come either from other humans who are, or who have been, sick; or from animals.
The ways the germs leave the sick person are four:
- They may be breathed or coughed out through the mouth or nose. This is the way colds, influenza, tuberculosis, and such diseases as measles, mumps, and whooping cough are spread. Fresh air and sunshine are important to prevent the spread of these diseases.
- Germs may be passed in the urine or stool, which is passed onto the ground, where it mixes with the dirt, or from where it may be washed into water. This is one of the most common ways of spreading disease. Stool should always be treated as though germs are in it, and should either be buried or collected in latrines. Typhoid fever, hepatitis, bilharzia, almost all the worms, and the different kinds of dysentery, are passed in the stool or urine. If these are passed in the stool or urine, which mixes with the dirt or goes into water, it is quite easy for the dirt or water to get on a person or on his food, and be taken into the mouth where it can begin to cause disease. This can be especially dangerous if the person who is doing the cooking is not dean, or if several people eat out of the same dish, and one of them has the dirt and germs of disease on his hands.
Either way, it is possible for one person to spread infection to many. Teach children that they should always wash their hands with soap and water after passing stool, and before eating or putting their hands in their mouths.
3. In cases where there are sores or infection in the skin, eyes, or other places on the outside of the body, germs may be passed directly from one person to another by touching. Such germs can also be carried when the well person does not even touch the sick person. A fly or other insect landing on the sore or infection, will carry the germs on its feet or mouth. This is the way many of the eye infections, and such diseases as yaws, are carried. Keeping clean with soap and water, and preventing flies or other insects from getting to sores, are the two best ways to prevent these infections. Also, a sick person or one with sore eyes or a cold should not use the same towel or bedding that others use.
- Germs and parasites are also carried by such insects as mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, lice, and biting flies such as the tsetse fly. One of these insects bites a person who is sick with a disease such as malaria, sleeping sickness, or other fever; and thus gets germs into its own body. Later, when it bites a person who is well, the germs are passed from its own body into the well person who then later becomes ill with the disease in some cases it is possible for insects to pass germs from animals to man in this.
We can prevent these diseases by screening our homes to keep out the insects, and by sleeping under mosquito nets.
Germs do not cause sickness or disease as soon as they enter the body. There is always an incubation period of several hours, usually several days, and sometimes even weeks or months. In other words, there is always a period of time between the time that germs enter until they have multiplied and grown enough to cause fever or illness. During this period the body has time to fight the germs. To do this, the body has ways of making special “soldiers” (antibodies) ‘to fight against different germs. This is an example of our Creator’s love and wise foresight—His making our bodies in such a way that antibodies are produced to fight disease.
Different kinds of germs need different kinds of antibodies to fight against them. The body learns what kind of antibodies to make either by meeting the germs in the body as they arrive through sickness, or by vaccination (immunization). It is much better for the body to learn about the different germs through immunization, than through sickness. After the body has learned how to make the antibodies, we say that person is “immune” to that disease. This is why smallpox vaccination prevents person from getting smallpox, and why people who have had such diseases as chickenpox and measles, seldom have them a second time.
WAYS OF PREVENTING DISEASES CAUSED BY GERMS (SUMMARIZED)
To summarize the ways of preventing diseases caused by germs: wash often soap and water (both our bodies and clothes); bury all stools or always use a latrine; cook foods well, boil all the water drunk (unless one knows it is perfectly clean); try to have an abundance of fresh air and sunshine in houses; keep both houses and outside yards as clean as possible, and use screens and mosquito nets