This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
The Congress of the Sanitary Institute of Great Britain was opened in Newcastle on September 26. The inaugural public meeting was held in the Town Hall. Prof. De Chaumont presided, in the place of the ex-President, Lord Fortescue, and introduced Captain Galton, the new President.
The President commenced his inaugural address by thanking, in the name of the Sanitary Institute of Great Britain, the Mayor and Corporation of Newcastle for the invitation to visit this important industrial metropolis of Northern England. The invitation, he said, was the more satisfactory because Newcastle was advancing in the van of sanitary improvement, and was thus proving the interest of this great city in a subject which was contributing largely to the moral and material progress of the nation. Of all the definite questions which were made the subject of the instruction by congresses at the present time, there was scarcely one which deserved a greater share of attention than that which called that congress together--namely, the subject of the public health.
Within the last half century the whole community had been gradually awakening to the importance of a knowledge of the laws of health, and the energies of some of the ablest intellects in the world had been employed in investigating the causes of disease, and in endeavoring to solve the problem of the prevention of disease. There was much that was still obscure in this very intricate problem, but the new light which was daily being thrown upon the causes of disease by the careful and exact researches of the chemist and physiologist was gradually tending to explain those causes and to raise the science of hygiene, or science of prevention of disease, out of the region of speculation, and enable it to take rank as one of the exact sciences. Long ago the careful observation of facts had shown that the preservation of health required certain conditions to be observed in and around dwellings, conditions which, when neglected, had led to the outbreaks of epidemic disease from the days of Moses to the present time. But while the results had been patent, it was only in recent years that a clew had been obtained to the occult conditions in air and water to enable their comparative healthful purity to be distinguished.
The researches of Pasteur in respect to the forms of disease in French vineyards opened a fruitful field of inquiry, and the theories of Dr. Bastian on spontaneous generation gave rise to the beautiful series of experiments by Tyndall on bacterian life. A large band of leading scientific men, both in this country and over the whole world, were devoting their energies to a knowledge of the recent theories on the propagation of disease by germs. In a lecture on fermentation, Tyndall remarked that the researches, by means of which science has recently elucidated the causes of fermentation, have raised the art of brewing from being an art founded on empirical observation--that is to say, on the observation of facts apart from the principles which explain them--into what may be termed an exact science.
In like manner, if recent theories on the propagation of disease by germs were proved to be correct, and if the laws which govern the propagation or destruction of those germs were known, the art of the physician would be similarly raised. Upon these questions leading scientific men all over the world were devoting their energies. Research had shown that putrefaction was only another form of organized life, and Tyndall had shown that in the moving particles of fine dust discovered by a ray of light in a dark room the germs of low forms of life, which would cause putrefaction, were ever present, and ready to spring into life when a favorable "nidus" for the development of the organism was provided.
Professor Lister had turned this knowledge to useful account in surgery in causing the air to be filtered by means of a carbolic spray during surgical operations, by which means germs or organisms in the air were prevented from reaching the wounds, and from developing organisms, the presence of which caused putrefaction or suppuration. This antiseptic treatment, which had arisen from the observation of germs in the air, had had a material influence on the art of surgery throughout the world.
The speaker then reviewed the declarations of physiologists regarding the theories that some diseases arise from minute organisms in the blood--Pasteur holding that the disease in silkworms was from this cause; Dr. Davaine, that splenic fever in cattle arose thus; Dr. Klein alleging that pig typhoid was due to an organism; Toussaint attributing fowl cholera to a similar cause; Professor Koch attributing tubercular disease to specific germs; Dr. Vandyke Carter contending that there was a connection between the presence of bacillus spirillum and relapsing fever; and Mr. Talamon claiming to have discovered that diphtheria was due to an organism by means of which the virus could be conveyed from human beings to animals, and vice versa.
Taking another branch of the same subject, the causes of zymotic diseases being traced to controllable sources, he said: Drs. Klebs and Crudelli allege that malarial fever arises from germs present in the soil and which float over the air of marshes; and that by treating with water the soil of a fever-haunted marsh of the Campagna the germs of this organism could be washed out; and that the water containing the organisms thus obtained, introduced into the circulation of a dog, produced ague more or less rapidly, and more or less violent, according to the numbers in which the organisms were present in the water.
This theory, no doubt, agrees with certain well-known facts. In a tropical climate, if soil which has been long undisturbed, or the soil of marshy ground, be turned up, intermittent fever is almost certain to ensue. In illustration of this, I recollect that at Hong Kong the troops were unhealthy, and a beautiful position on a peninsula exposed to the most favorable sea-breezes was selected for a new encampment. The troops were encamped upon this spot for some time to test its healthiness, which was found to be all that could be desired. It was then resolved to build barracks. As soon as the foundations were dug, fever broke out.