March 17, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Health and Disease

Some people think that doctors and nurses can put scrambled eggs back into the shell.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

I was reared in a very different world from the one that exists today. Everyone was at the mercy of virtually every disease that there was. You could be vaccinated against smallpox, the diphtheria toxin and a few others, but that was it. People were terrified that they might get lockjaw(tetanus) or blood poisoning, which meant almost certain death. Influenza did not kill many people, but the pneumonia that sometimes followed it did. It killed millions. There were all sorts of ways to treat pneumonia, but their effectiveness were no better than prayer. That did not stop people and doctors from pretending that they were doing a patient good with medicines and mumbo jumbo, poultices, gargles, mustard plasters etc. Not many people remember the "crisis" in pneumonia. The patient had a high fever. If he didn't die, the fever suddenly broke(the crisis) and the patient was on the way to recovery.

Then came the discovery of sulfanilamide. It was a miracle drug, despite its deleterious side effects. It could actually stop the growth of the bacteria that caused pneumonia and blood poisoning. Soon other similar chemicals were made that didn't have the bad side effects. They could actually cure urinary tract infections and are still used very effectively for that today. Gonorrhea was now curable, as were a number of other bacteria-caused diseases.

During World War II, penicillin was discovered and developed. It was much more effective than the sulfonamides because it actually killed the bacteria rather than stopping their growth. I remember, just after the war in Europe ended, I was talking to a German doctor and I told him that we had a drug that could cure gonorrhea in 48 hours. He called me a liar. During the war, American soldiers were immunized against the deadly effect of the tetanus bacterium with tetanus toxoid and no one died of the disease. The German army relied on antitoxin to fight the disease after a soldier got it. I saw a few tetanus deaths in German soldiers.

Now bacterial diseases are mostly curable. There are major problems with resistant strains. These are developed mostly by the indiscriminate use of new antibiotics, which is encouraged by the companies that manufacture them. Feeding cattle antibiotic-laced food also contributes to the development of resistant strains. Of course, if antibiotics were used judiciously, as they should be, the stockholders in the drug companies would not be very happy.

Viral diseases such as deadly smallpox can be prevented by vaccination. Other viral diseases, such as polio, measles and chicken pox, can also be prevented. Many viruses such as influenza and AIDS virus mutate readily and immunizing against one strain of the virus doesn't help much with a new strain. Influenza is easily spread , in the same way as the common cold, and there are many viruses that are spread that way. It is very difficult to stop the spread of flu virus because it spreads so easily. HIV(the virus that causes AIDS) takes quite a bit of effort to catch, but it involves the most pleasurable activity known to man. It may be almost impossible for you to avoid being exposed to the flu, but HIV can be prevented by keeping your fly zipped if you are male and your panties on if you are female.

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