This section is from the "A Practical Treatise On Materia Medica And Therapeutics" book, by Roberts Bartholow. Also available from Amazon: A Practical Treatise On Materia Medica And Therapeutics
Those remedies are entitled antiseptic which are employed to arrest fermentative processes. It is now generally admitted that every kind of fermentation is correlative of the growth and multiplication of a living organism. In various diseases, microzymes, vibrio, bacteria, either stand in a causative relation to the morbid process, or are necessary to its evolution and development.
To illustrate the commanding importance of pathogenic organisms in modern pathology, it is only necessary to mention a few of the more noteworthy discoveries in the new science of bacteriology— for example, the spirochaete plicatillis of relapsing fever, the bacillus of tubercle, the coccus of pneumonia, the comma bacillus of cholera, etc. The mere finding of minute organisms does not suffice to prove that their presence is anything more than accidental. To demonstrate a causative relation, cultures of the organism, and afterward successful inoculations, are requisite.
Very admirable practical results have followed the discovery of the alkaloid-like ptomaines in the intestinal canal. Fermentative processes set up by germs introduced from without produce these substances when the local conditions are favorable. The formation of ptomaines, and of such actively poisonous substances as tyrotoxi-con, correspond to or imitate methods by which the active principles of plants are produced. Increasing experiences, and the accurate scientific methods now applied to the whole question, have demonstrated that various maladies—some supposed to be constitutional in character—are due to these poisons, which, when formed, diffuse into the blood, setting up the morbid process characteristic of each agent.
Antiseptics—have the power, when brought into contact with the minute organisms or disease-germs mentioned above, to destroy their vitality, and to arrest the fermentation process, or zymosis, which they either initiate or promote. There is a distinct relation between the antiseptic and antipyretic properties of various members of this group, and they have the power to depress temperature in the same ratio that they are active in destroying disease ferments and germs. Some of these remedies, e. g., quinine, sulphurous acid, the sulphites, etc., have already been discussed in Part II. Under this head there remain for consideration several important agents whose applications are distinctly antiseptic.