Germs Don’t Cause Disease, You Do

We once had an in-office day care. It was complete with a classroom, an area sectioned off for indoor play, kitchen and outside playground equipment. There was a full-time monitor/teacher and lots of little munchkins around the office interrupting us during the course of the day.

It was healthy and nice for moms and dads to be able to interact with their children during the day. If you own a business, think about doing this. If you are an employee, get together with coworkers to see what you can do to help the business you work for get one established. We operated ours for almost a decade, until most of the youngsters grew up. Several of them have even come back to work with us as young adults. We became like a home away from home.

I was the official sliver surgeon for all the kids. Our office is in a wooded area so almost every week there was a sliver drama. That’s when I got to perform my magic with terrifying instruments like a scalpel, forceps, needle and magnifying glasses. My little patients tried to be real brave and fight back tears, but their dilated pupils and clammy trembling hands revealed the true life threatening state they found themselves in. All the other kids were a wide-eyed and awed audience for these major surgical events. It was just like The Learning Channel surgery programs, but with a Sesame Street flair and a little less blood and guts. Once my patient’s survival was assured, there were lots of hugs and thanks. Then off they would all skip, relieved that their friend had survived one of life’s dire and perilous calamities. They could be heard around the building all abuzz with, “Did it hurt?” “I saw the blood!” “You were brave!” “How big was it?” “Glad that wasn’t me!”

Actually, everyone would be pretty brave about this except my own kids. To listen to them when I am removing a sliver not even visible except with magnification, you would swear I was working on a 2 x 4 with vice grips or sawing their limb off with a chain saw. No need to be brave when it’s Dad who’s working on you.

As I would work on sweaty, grubby little hands, I wondered how kids ever survive childhood with all the filth. If germs were really the true cause of disease, how could any of us survive? Do we really think washing our hands with antiseptic soap, disinfecting toilet seats, doorknobs and telephones, wearing surgeon-type face masks on the streets and getting vaccinated keeps all of the germs at bay?

One E. coli bacterium can produce four billion offspring by the next morning. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and parasites are ubiquitous throughout nature in air, water, on surfaces, skin, food and ground. They are microscopic and in countless numbers. Just one gram of soil contains over a billion microorganisms. If you shoveled just one cubic meter of dirt, 35 pounds of it would be these microscopic critters. Some are pathogens; others are necessary for our survival. Without bacteria to consume garbage, we would have long ago been smothered under the refuse nature and we create.

Good bacteria (probiotics) on our skin and in our mouths and intestinal tract actually help thwart the bad bacteria. Disease causing pathogens can even exert a beneficial effect by stimulating immunity. That is the principle of vaccines. The thing that it seems science is trying to achieve – no bacteria at all – with obsessive disinfection and sterilization is neither possible nor beneficial.

For example, scientists attempting to rid chickens of salmonella (food-borne pathogens) tried a sterile environment. The result was that mortality increased because the chicken’s immune system could not develop properly without exposure to the pathogens it needed to be protected against. Germ-free chickens were fine so long as there were absolutely no germs around. But since that would never be possible, once exposed to the pathogens they would easily succumb to disease and die. The solution was to feed baby chicks the salmonella infested droppings of the mother hens. After all the sterility failed, they found the cure was in the filthy poop! (Wysong, R. L. Salmonella Enteritidis Infection From Eggs, Wysong e-Health Letter, September 1999.)

We could never sterilize the world if we wanted to. If we did it would result in our demise. The microbe paranoia serves primarily the interests of drug, vaccine and disinfectant manufacturers. (I am not suggesting reasonable hygiene is not in order.)

I hear you, “Yeah, but we would be having the plague and other epidemics if it weren’t for medicine.” Contrary to popular belief, diseases like polio, measles and typhus were not conquered by humans. Note in the accompanying graphs that the vaccine or chemotherapeutic agent that is credited with vanquishing the scourges was introduced after the majority of the decline in the disease had already occurred! (Why Modern Medicine is the Greatest Threat to Health It would be like me taking credit for dropping the tide by bucketing water out of the ocean as the tide was receding. Infectious diseases have a natural ebb and flow and so does the general immunity of the population. That is the reason epidemics decline regardless of human intervention.

We can’t even eradicate the mosquito, a creature which we can see and for which we can examine every life stage in detail. How are we going to eradicate microorganisms, which, if crowded side-by-side, would number in the trillions to occupy the space of one mosquito?

Look at the creatures in the wild co-existing, and even thriving in what we would consider filth. Rabbits eat their stool, vultures eat rotten carcasses, and dogs will roll in the most putrid, decaying material they can find and then lick themselves clean and offer the perfumery to their friends to lick as well.

Children constantly have their fingers in their mouths after wallowing on the floor, playing in the toilet or exploring the garbage pail. We adults aren’t exactly sterile in our habits either. Up until relatively recently a bath once a year was considered plenty in western society. That or less is common elsewhere in the world to this day. Billions wipe themselves with their fingers (usually with the left hand, a good reason to shake with the right) and yet live in societies that rank higher on health scores than nations with bidets, perfumed toilet paper and disinfectant aerosols and soaps.

Don’t buy the simplistic germ-view of how we get disease. True, certain pathogenic organisms can be associated with disease, but likewise so are crows and buzzards associated with road kill. The buzzard is not responsible for the road kill, neither are the pathogenic organisms responsible for disease. They are both opportunists. They wait until the prey is weakened and then they dive in. In microcosm, infectious disease is like the carnivore-prey drama occurring throughout nature. Predators always choose the easiest meal: the unfit, the weak and disabled.

We are not victims. Disease does not strike us. The opposite view that disease is a result of virulent microorganisms lurking in our environment waiting to attack us, organisms we can’t even see much less understand, makes us dependent on experts who have a vested interest in our illness. No matter how much money we give them, they will not protect us from the dark germ forces in spite of their Star Wars antiseptics, vaccinations, antibiotics and chemotherapeutic agents.

We are in control of our own defenses. We either create the setting for health or the meal for pathogens. Our choice.

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