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Diseases Caused By Other Organisms Than Bacteria

( Originally Published 1897 )



Although the purpose of this work is to deal primarily with the bacterial world, it would hardly be fitting to leave the subject without some reference to diseases caused by organisms which do not belong to the group of bacteria. While most of the so-called germ diseases are caused by the bacteria which we have been studying in the previous chapters, there are some whose inciting cause is to be found among organisms belonging to other groups. Some of these are plants of a higher organization than bacteria, but others are undoubtedly microscopic animals. Their life habits are somewhat different from those of bacteria, and hence the course of the diseases is commonly different. Of the diseases thus produced by microscopic animals or by higher plants, one or two are of importance enough to deserve special mention here.

Malaria.—The most important of these diseases is malaria in its various forms, and known under various names—chills and fever, autumnal fever, etc. This disease, so common almost everywhere, has been studied by physicians and scientists for a long time, and many have been the causes assigned to it. At one time it was thought to be the result of the growth of a bacterium, and a distinct bacillus was described as producing it. It has finally been shown, however, to be caused by a microscopic organism belonging to the group of unicellular animals, and some Undoubtedly the malarial germ has some home outside the human body, but it is not yet very definitely, known what this external home is; nor do we know from what source the human parasite is derived. It appears probable that water serves in some cases as its means of transference to man, and air in other cases. From some external source it gains access to man and finds its way into the blood. Here it attacks the red blood-corpuscles, each malarial organism making its way into a single one (Fig. 34 a). Here it now grows, increasing in size at the expense of the substance of the corpuscle (Fig. 34 a –f ). As it becomes larger it becomes granular, and soon shows a tendency to separate into a number of irregular masses (Fig. 34 f). Finally it breaks up into many minute bodies called spores (Fig. 34g). These bodies break out of the corpuscle and for a time live a free life in the blood (Fig. 34 h). After a time they make their way into other red blood-corpuscles, develop into new malarial amoeboid parasites, and repeat the growth and sporulation. This process can apparently be repeated many times without check.

These organisms are thus to be regarded as parasites of the red corpuscles. It is, of course, easy to believe that an extensive parasitism and destruction of the corpuscles would be disastrous to the health of the individual, and the severity of the disease will depend upon the extent of the parasitism. Corresponding to this life history of the organism, the disease malaria is commonly characterized by a decided intermittency, periods of chill and fever alternating with periods of intermission in which these symptoms are abated. The paroxysms of the disease, characterized by the chill, occur at the time that the spores are escaping from the blood-corpuscles and floating in the blood. After they have again found their way into a blood-corpuscle the fever diminishes, and during their growth in the corpuscle until the next sporulation the individual has a rest from the more severe symptoms.

There appears to be more than one variety of the malarial organism, the different types differing in the length of time it takes for their growth and sporulation. There is one variety, the most common one, which requires two days for its growth, thus giving rise to the paroxysm of the disease about once in forty-eight hours; another variety appears to require three days for its growth ; while still another variety appears to be decidedly irregular in its period of growth and sporulation. These facts readily explain some of the variations in the disease. Certain other irregularities appear to be due to a different cause. More than one brood of parasites may be in the blood of the individual at the same time, one producing sporulation at one time and another at a different time. Such a simultaneous growth of two independent broods may plainly produce al-most any kind of modification in the regularity of the disease.

The malarial organism appears to be very sensitive to quinine, a very small quantity being sufficient to kill it. Upon this point depends the value of quinine as a medicine. If the drug be present in the blood at the time when the spores are set free from the blood-corpuscle, they are rapidly killed by it before they have a chance to enter another corpuscle. During their growth in the corpuscle they are far less sensitive to quinine than when they exist in the free condition as spores, and at this time the drug has little effect.

The malarial organism is an animal, and can not be cultivated in the laboratory by any artificial method yet devised. Its whole history is therefore not known. It doubtless has some home outside the blood of animals, and very likely it may pass through other stages of a meta-morphosis in the bodies of other animals. Most parasitic animals have two or more hosts upon which they live, alternating from one to the other, and that such is the case with the malarial parasite is at least probable. But as yet bacteriologists have been unable to discover anything very definite in regard to the matter. Until we can learn something in regard to its life outside the blood of man we can do little in the way of devising methods to avoid it.

Malaria differs from most germ diseases in the fact that the organisms which produce it are not eliminated from the body in any way. In most germ diseases the germs are discharged from the patient by secretions or excretions of some kind, and from these excretions may readily find their way into other individuals. The malarial organ-ism is not discharged from the body in any way, and hence is not contagious. If the parasite does pass part of its history in some other animal than man, there must be some means by which it passes from man to its other host. It has been suggested that some of the insects which feed upon human blood may serve as the second host and become inoculated when feeding upon such blood. This has been demonstrated with start-ling success in regard to the mosquito (Anopheles), some investigators going so far as to say that this is the only way in which the disease can be communicated.

Several other microscopic animals occur as parasites upon man, and some of them are so definitely associated with certain diseases as to lead to the belief that they are the cause of these diseases. The only one of very common occurrence is a species known as Amoeba tali, which is found in cases of dysentery. In a certain type of dysentery this organism is so universally found that there is little doubt that it is in some very intimate way associated with the cause of the disease. Definite proof of the matter is, however, as yet wanting.

On the side of plants, we find that several plants of a higher organization than bacteria may become parasitic upon the body of man and produce various types of disease. These plants be-long mostly to the same group as the moulds, and they are especially apt to attack the skin. They grow in the skin, particularly under the hair, and may send their threadlike branches into some of the subdermal tissues. This produces irritation and inflammation of the skin, resulting in trouble, and making sores difficult to heal. So long as the plant continues to grow, the sores, of course, can not be healed, and when the organ-isms get into the skin under the hair it is frequently difficult to destroy them. Among the diseases thus caused are ringworm, thrush, alopecia, etc.



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