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Infections And How To Avoid Them

Source: A Handbook Of Health

What Causes Disease. The commonest and most dangerous accident that is
likely to happen to you is to catch some disease. Fortunately, however,
this is an accident that is as preventable as it is common. Indeed, if
everybody would help the Board of Health in its fight against the spread
of the common catchable diseases, these diseases could soon be wiped
out of existence. Every one of them is due to dirt of some sort; and
absolute cleanness would do away with them altogether.

Diseases that are catching, or will spread from one person to another,
are called infections; and all of them, as might be supposed from
their power of spreading, are due to tiny living particles, called
germs--so tiny that they cannot be seen except under a powerful
microscope. Nine-tenths of these disease germs are little plants of the
same class as the moulds that grow upon cheese or stale bread, and are
called bacteria, or bacilli. The different kinds of bacteria, or
bacilli, are usually named after the diseases they produce, or else
after the scientists who discovered them. For instance, the germ that
causes typhoid fever is called the bacillus typhosus; that which
causes tuberculosis is called the bacillus tuberculosis; while the germ
of diphtheria known as the Klebs-Loeffler bacillus, after the two men
who discovered it.

A few kinds of disease germs belong to the animal kingdom, though all
germs are so tiny that you would have to have a very powerful microscope
to tell the difference between the animal germs and the bacilli, or
little plants. Most of these animal germs are called protozoa and
cause diseases found in, or near, the tropics, like malaria and the
terrible sleeping sickness of Africa. Smallpox, yellow fever, and
hydrophobia--the disease that results from the bite of a mad dog--are
also probably due to animal germs.

So far as prevention is concerned, however, it makes practically little
difference whether infectious diseases are due to an animal or a
vegetable germ, or to one bacillus or another. They all have two things
in common: they can be spread only by the touch of an infected person,
and touch includes breath,--indeed by touch is the meaning of both
infectious and contagious; and they can all be prevented by the
strictest cleanness, or killed by various poisons known as germicides
(germ-killers), or disinfectants. Most of these germicides are,
unfortunately, poisonous to us as well; for, as you will remember, our
bodies are made up of masses of tiny animal cells, not unlike the animal
germs. Most of the germicides, therefore, have to be used against germs
while they are outside of our bodies.

Scripture says that a man's foes shall be they of his own household,
and this is true of disease germs. They grow and flourish--and, so far
as history tells us, the diseases they cause seem to have started--only
where people are crowded together in huts or houses, breathing one
another's breaths and one another's perspiration, and drinking one
another's waste substances in the well water. This fact has, however,
its encouraging side; for, since this habit of crowding together, which
we call civilization, or citification, has caused and keeps causing
these diseases, it can also cure them and prevent their spread if all
the people will fight them in dead earnest. No amount of money, or of
time, that a town or a county can spend in stamping out these infectious
diseases would be wasted. Indeed, every penny of it would be a good
investment; for, taken together, they cause at least half, and probably
nearly two-thirds, of all deaths. Not only so, but most of the so-called
chronic diseases of the heart, kidneys, lungs, bones, and brain are due
to the after-effects of their toxins, or poisons.

How Disease Germs Grow and Spread. But perhaps you will ask, If these
bacteria and protozoa are so tiny that we have to use a microscope, and
one of the most powerful made, in order even to see them, how is it that
they can overrun our whole body and produce such dangerous fevers and so
many deaths? The answer is simply, Because there are so many millions
of them; and because they breed, or multiply, at such a tremendously
rapid rate. When one of these little bacilli breeds, it doesn't take
time to form buds and flowers and seeds, like other plants, or even the
trouble to lay eggs like an insect or a bird, but simply stretches
itself out a little longer, pinches itself in two, and makes of each
half a new bacillus.

This is known as fission or splitting, and is of interest because
this is the way in which the little cells that make up our own bodies
increase in number; as, for instance, when a muscle is growing and
enlarging under exercise, or when more of the white blood cells are
needed to fight some disease. Remember that we and the disease germs are
both cells; and that, if they are numbered by millions, we are by
billions; and that we are made up of far the older and the tougher cells
of the two. Except in a few of the most virulent and deadly of fevers,
like the famous Black Death, or bubonic plague, and lock-jaw, or
tetanus, ninety-five times out of a hundred when disease germs get
into our bodies, it is our bodies that eat up the germs instead of the
germs our bodies. Keep away from disease germs all that you reasonably
and possibly can; but don't forget that the best protection against
infectious diseases, in the long run, is a strong, vigorous, healthy
body that can literally eat them alive.

Grow that kind of body, keep it perfectly clean inside and out, and you
have little need to fear fevers, or indeed any other kind of disease;
for you will live until you are old enough to die--and then you'll want
to, just as you want to go to sleep when you are tired. Remember that
this fight against the fevers is a winning fight, this study of disease
germs a cheering and encouraging one, because it will end in our
conquering them, not merely nine times out of ten, but ninety-nine times
out of a hundred.

We are not making this fight just to escape death; what we are fighting
for is to live out a full, useful, and happy life. And we already have
five chances to one of gaining this, and the chances are improving every
year; for science has already raised the average length of life from
barely twenty years to over forty. Broadly speaking, if you will keep
away from every one whom you know to have an infectious disease; wash
your hands always before you eat, or put anything into your mouth; keep
your fingers, pencils, pennies, and pins out of your mouth,--where they
don't belong; live and play in the open air as much as possible and
keep your windows well open day and night, you will avoid nine-tenths of
the risks from germs and the dangers that they bring in their wake.

Children's Diseases. We have already studied two of the greatest and
most dangerous diseases, and the way to conquer them--tuberculosis, or
consumption, in the chapter on the lungs; and typhoid fever, in the
chapter on our drink. One of the next most important groups of
catching diseases--important because, though very mild, they are so
exceedingly common,--is that known as the diseases of childhood, or
diseases of infancy because they are most likely to occur in
childhood. So common are they that you know their names almost as well
as you know your own--measles, mumps, whooping cough, scarlet fever, and
chicken-pox. Though they are in no way related to one another, so far as
we know (indeed, the precise germs that cause two of them--measles and
scarlet fever--have not yet positively been determined), yet they can be
practically taken together, because they are all spread in much the same
way, they all begin with much the same sort of sneezing and inflammation
of the nose and throat, they can all be prevented by the same means,
and, if properly taken care of, they result in complete recovery
ninety-five times out of a hundred.

Any child who has sneezing, running at the nose or eyes, sore throat, or
cough, especially with headache or backache, a flushed face and
feverishness, ought to be kept at home from school and placed in a
well-ventilated, well-lighted room by himself for a day or two, until it
can be seen whether he has one of these children's diseases, or only a
common cold. If it turns out to be measles, scarlet fever, or whooping
cough, he should then be kept entirely away from other children in a
separate room, or, where that is impossible, in a special hospital or
ward for the purpose; he should be kept in bed and given such remedies
as the doctor may advise. Then no one else will catch the disease from
him; and within from two to five weeks, he will be well again. The most
important thing is not to let him get up and begin to run about, or
expose himself, too soon; five times as many deaths are caused by taking
cold, or becoming over-tired, or by injudicious eating, during recovery
after measles, scarlet fever, and whooping cough, as by the disease
itself. This one caution will serve two purposes; for, as a sick child's
breath, and the scales from his skin, and what he coughs out from his
mouth and nose are full of germs, and will give the disease to other
children from two to four weeks after the fever has left him, he ought
to be kept by himself--in quarantine, as we say--for this length of
time, which is just about the period needed to protect him from the
dangers of relapse or taking cold. Boards of Health fix this period of
quarantine by law and put a colored placard on the house to warn others
of the danger of infection.

Colds and Sore Throats. A milder and even more common kind of
infection is that known as common colds. These, as shown by their name,
were once supposed to be due to exposure to cold air, or drafts, or to
becoming wet or chilled. But, while a few of them are so caused, at
least eight, and probably nine, out of ten are due to germs caught from
somebody else. They are never caught in the open air and very seldom in
cold, pure fresh air of any sort, but almost always in the hot, foul,
stuffy, twice-breathed air of bedrooms, schoolrooms, churches, theatres,
halls, sleeping cars, etc. The colds, for instance, that you catch when
traveling, are usually due not to drafts or damp sheets, but to the crop
of cold germs left behind by the last victim.

You have probably known of colds that have run through a family or a
school or a shop. It is well worth trying to keep away from the
infection of colds, because not only is their coughing and sore throat
and hoarseness and running at the nose very disagreeable and
uncomfortable, but they may cause almost as many different kinds of
serious troubles in heart, kidneys, and nervous system as any of the
other infections. In fact, they probably cause more than any other,
because they are at least ten times as common and frequent. For
instance, many cases of rheumatism, or rheumatic fever, come after
attacks in the nose and throat, which cannot be distinguished from a
common cold or ordinary tonsilitis. Indeed, it is more than probable
that one of the ten or a dozen different germs that may get into your
nose or throat and give you a cold, is the germ that causes rheumatism.
At all events, it would be fairly safe to say, No colds, no

Whenever you have a cold, keep away from everybody that you possibly can
and stay at home from school or business for a day or two. You will do
no good to yourself or others, working in that condition; and you may
infect a dozen others. If you find anyone in your class or room or shop,
sneezing or coughing or running at the nose, report him to your teacher
or foreman; and if he won't send him home, keep away from him as much as

Diphtheria. Another common and serious disease, until quite recently
very fatal, is diphtheria. This is caused by getting into your mouth or
nose the germs from another case of the disease. This disease also is
most likely to occur in childhood, though it may attack a person of any
age, and is always serious. It may be prevented from spreading by
keeping children who have it shut up in rooms, or wards, by themselves
and keeping all other children away from them, or from their nurses or
those who have anything to do with them. Up to about thirty years ago,
it was one of the deadliest and most terrible diseases that we had
anything to do with. We knew absolutely nothing that would cure it, or
even check its course; and nearly half of the children attacked by it

About that time, however, two scientists, Klebs and Loeffler, discovered
that, by taking some of the membrane, or tough growth that forms in the
throat in this disease, and by rubbing it over a plate of gelatin jelly,
they could grow on that gelatin a particular kind of germ. This germ, or
bacillus, they then put into the throats of guinea pigs, and found that
it would give them diphtheria.

This is the way disease germs are discovered, or, as we say, identified;
but of course this did not give at once any remedy for the disease.
Scientists soon found, however, that, if a very small number of these
bacilli were put into a guinea pig's throat, it would have diphtheria,
but in a very mild form. If, when it had recovered, it was again
infected, it would stand a much larger dose of the bacilli without harm.
This made them suspect that some substance had been formed in the
guinea-pig's blood that killed the bacillus or worked against its toxin,
or poison; and soon, to their delight, they succeeded in finding this
substance, which they called antitoxin (meaning against poison).
Then came the idea that if they could only get enough of this antitoxin,
and inject it into the blood of a child who had diphtheria, it might
cure the disease. A guinea pig is such a tiny animal that the amount of
antitoxin which it could form would be far too small to cure a man, or
even a child. So larger animals were taken; and it was finally found
that the largest and strongest of our domestic animals, the horse,
would, if the diphtheria germs were injected into its blood, make such
large amounts of antitoxin that merely by drawing a quart or two of the
blood--and closing up the vein again--enough antitoxin could be got to
cure fifty or a hundred children of diphtheria. This treatment has not
the slightest harmful effect upon the horse. The pain of injecting is
only like sticking a pin through the skin, while the pain of bleeding is
no greater than cutting your finger. There are now at our great
manufacturing laboratories whole stables full of horses, for the
production of this wonderful remedy.

With this remedy, our entire feeling toward diphtheria is changed.
Instead of dreading it above all things, we know now, from hundreds of
thousands of cures, that, if a case is seen on the first day of the
disease, and this antitoxin injected with a hypodermic needle, it is
almost certain that the patient will recover; not more than two or three
cases out of a hundred will fail. If the case is seen and treated on the
second day, all but four or five out of a hundred will recover; and if
on the third day, all but ten. In fact, the average death rate of
diphtheria has been cut down now from forty-five per cent to about six
per cent.

We now have antitoxins, or vaccines, for blood-poisoning; for typhoid
fever; for one of the forms of rheumatism; for boils; for the terrible
cerebro-spinal meningitis, or spotted fever; and for tetanus, or
lock-jaw. And every year there are one or two other diseases added to
the list of those that have been conquered in this way.

None of these vaccines is so powerful, or so certain in its effects, as
the diphtheria antitoxin. But they are very helpful already; and some of
them, particularly the typhoid vaccine, are of great value in preventing
the attack of the disease, as small doses of it given to persons who
have been exposed to the infection, or are obliged to drink infected
water, as in traveling or in war, very greatly lessen their chances of
catching the disease.

Vaccination, the Great Cure for Smallpox. Another valuable means of
preventing disease by means of its germs is by putting very small doses
of the germs into a patient's body, so that they will give him a very
mild attack of the disease, and cause the production in his blood of
such large amounts of antitoxin that he will no longer be liable to an
attack of the violent, or dangerous, form of the disease. Vaccines, for
this purpose, usually consist either of a very small number of the
disease germs, or of a group of them, which have been made to grow upon
a very poor soil or have been chilled or heated so as to destroy their
vitality or kill them outright. When these dead, or half-dead, bacilli
are injected into the system, they stir up the body to produce promptly
large amounts of its antitoxin. In some cases the reaction is so prompt
and so vigorous that the antitoxin is produced almost without any
discomfort, or disturbance, and the patient scarcely knows anything
about it. In others there will be a slight degree of feverishness, with
perhaps a little headache, and a few days, or hours, of discomfort. When
this has passed, then the individual is protected against that disease
for a period varying from a few months to as long as seven or eight
years, or even for life.

The best-known and oldest illustration of the use of these vaccines is
that of smallpox. A little more than a hundred years ago, an English
country doctor by the name of Jenner discovered that the cows in his
district suffered from a disease accompanied by irritation upon their
skins and udders, which was known as cowpox. The dairymaids who milked
these cows caught this disease, which was exceedingly mild and was all
over within four or five days; but after that the maids would not take
smallpox, or, as we say, were immune against it. Smallpox at that time
was as common as measles is now. Nearly one-fourth of the whole
population of Europe was pock-marked, and over half the inmates in the
blind asylums had been made blind by smallpox. So common was it that it
was quite customary to take the infectious matter from the pocks upon
the skin of a mild case and inoculate children with it, so as to give
them the disease in mild form and thus protect them against a severe, or
fatal, attack; just as in country districts, a few years ago, some
parents would expose their children to measles when it happened to be a
mild form, so as to have it over with.

It occurred to Dr. Jenner that if this inoculation with cowpox would
protect these milkmaids, it would be an infinitely safer thing to use to
protect children than even the mildest known form of inoculation. So he
tried it upon two or three of his child patients, after explaining the
situation to their parents, and was perfectly delighted when, a few
months afterward, these children happened to be exposed to a severe case
of smallpox and entirely escaped catching the disease. This was the
beginning of what we now call vaccination.

The germ of cowpox, which is believed to be either the cow or horse
variety of human smallpox, is cultivated upon healthy calves. The matter
formed upon their skin is collected with the greatest care; and this is
rubbed, or scraped, into the arm of the child. It is a perfectly safe
and harmless cure; and although it has been done millions of times,
never has there been more than one death from it in 10,000 cases. In a
little over a hundred years it has reduced smallpox from the commonest
and most fatal of all diseases to one of the rarest. But in every
country in the world into which vaccination has not been introduced,
smallpox rages as commonly and as fatally as ever. For instance, between
1893 and 1898 in Russia, where a large share of the people are
unvaccinated, 275,000 deaths occurred from smallpox; in Spain, where the
same condition exists, 24,000. In Germany, on the other hand, where
vaccination is practically universal, there were in the same period only
287 deaths--1/1000 as many as in Russia; and in England, only a slightly
greater number.

Another illustration, which comes closer home, is that of the Philippine
Islands. Before they were annexed by the United States, vaccination was
rare, and thousands of deaths from smallpox occurred every year. In
1897, after the people had been thoroughly vaccinated, there was not a
single death from this cause in the whole of the Islands.

This discovery of Jenner's was most fortunate; for vaccination remains
until this day absolutely the only remedy of any value whatever that we
possess against smallpox.

Quarantine, inoculation, improvement of living and sanitary conditions,
the use of drugs and medicines of all sorts other than vaccination, have
no effect whatever upon either the spread or the fatality of the
disease. The author, when State Health Officer of Oregon, saw the
disease break out in a highly-civilized, well-fed, well-housed
community, and kill eleven out of thirty-three people attacked, just as
it would have done in the Dark Ages. Not one of the cases that died
had been vaccinated; and, with but one exception (and in this the proof
of vaccination was imperfect), every vaccinated case recovered.
Vaccination will usually protect for from five to ten years; then it is
advisable to be re-vaccinated, and in six to eight years more, another
vaccination should be attempted. This third vaccination will usually not
take, for the reason that two successful vaccinations will usually
protect for life.

Unexpected as it may seem, vaccination is not only a preventive of
smallpox, but a cure for it. The reason being that vaccinia, the
disease resulting from successful vaccination, being far milder than
smallpox, runs its course more quickly,--taking only two days to
develop,--while smallpox requires anywhere from seven to twenty days to
develop after the patient has been infected, or exposed. So, if anyone
who has been exposed to smallpox is vaccinated any time within a week
after exposure, the vaccine will take hold first, and the patient will
have either simple vaccinia, with its trifling headache and fever, or
else a very mild form of smallpox.

Some persons object to having children deliberately infected with even
the mildest sort of disease; but this is infinitely better than to
allow, as was the case before vaccination, from one-fourth to one-fifth
of them to be killed, twenty-five per cent of them to be pock-marked,
and ten per cent of them to be blinded by this terrible disease. So far
as any after-effects of vaccination are concerned, careful investigation
of hundreds of thousands of cases has clearly shown that it is not so
dangerous as a common cold in the head.

Infantile Paralysis. Another disease that has been unpleasantly
famous of late is also caused and spread by a germ. This is a form of
laming or crippling of certain muscles in childhood known as infantile
paralysis. It is not a common disease, though during the last two years
there has been an epidemic of it in the United States, especially in New
York and Massachusetts. The only things of importance for you to know
about it are that it begins, like the other infections, with headache,
fever, and usually with snuffles or slight sore throat, or an attack
of indigestion; and that its germ is probably spread by being sneezed or
coughed into the air from the noses and throats of the children who have
it, and breathed in by well children. The best known preventive of
serious results from this disease is the same as in the rest of
infectious diseases, namely, rest in bed, away from all other children,
which at the same time stops the spread of it. It furnishes one more
reason why all children having the snuffles and sore throat with fever
and headache should be kept away from school and promptly put to bed and
kept there until they are better.

The reason why the disease produces paralysis is that its germs
specially attack the spinal cord, so as to destroy the roots of the
nerves going to the muscles. Unless the harm done to the spinal cord is
very severe, other muscles of the arm or the leg can very often be
trained to take the place and to do the work of the paralyzed muscles,
so that while the limb will not be so strong as before, it will still be
quite useful.

Malaria. Practically the only disease due to animal germs, which is
sufficiently common in temperate or even subtropical regions to be of
interest to us, is malaria, better known perhaps as ague, or
chills-and-fever. This disease has always been associated with swamps
and damp marshy places and the fogs and mists that rise from them;
indeed its name, mal-aria, is simply the Italian words for bad air.
It is commonest in country districts as compared with towns, in the
South as compared with the North, and on the frontier, and usually
almost disappears when all the ponds and swamps in a district are
drained and turned into cultivated land or meadows.

About four hundred years ago, the Spanish conquerors of America were
fortunate enough to discover that the natives of Peru had a bitter,
reddish bark, which, when powdered or made into a strong tea, would cure
ague. This, known first as Peruvian bark, was introduced into Europe
by the intelligent and far-sighted Spanish Countess of Chincon; and, as
she richly deserved, her name became attached to it--first softened to
cinchona and later hardened to the now famous quinine. But for this
drug, the settlement of much of America would have been impossible. The
climate of the whole of the Mississippi Valley and of the South would
have been fatal to white men without its aid.

But although we knew that we could both break up and prevent malaria by
doses of quinine large enough to make the head ring, we knew nothing
about the cause--save that it was always associated with swamps and
marshy places--until about forty years ago a French army surgeon,
Laveran, discovered in the red corpuscles of the blood of malaria
patients, a little animal germ, which has since borne his name. This,
being an animal germ, naturally would not grow or live like a plant-germ
and must have been carried into the human body by the bite of some other
animal. The only animals that bite us often enough to transmit such a
disease are insects of different sorts; and, as biting insects are
commonly found flying around swamps, suspicion very quickly settled
upon the mosquito.

By a brilliant series of investigations by French, Italian, English, and
American scientists, the malaria germ was discovered in the body of the
mosquito, and was transmitted by its bite to birds and animals. Then a
score or more of eager students and doctors in different parts of the
world offered themselves for experiment--allowed themselves to be bitten
by infected mosquitoes, and within ten days developed malaria. At first
sight, this discovery was not very encouraging; for to exterminate
mosquitoes appeared to be as hopeful a task as to sweep back the
Atlantic tides with a broom. But luckily it was soon found that the
common piping, or singing, mosquito (called from his voice Culex
pipiens) could not carry the disease, but only one rather rare kind of
mosquito (the Anopheles), which is found only one-fiftieth as commonly
as the ordinary mosquito. It was further found that these
malaria-bearing mosquitoes could breed only in small puddles, or pools,
that were either permanent or present six months out of the year, and
that did not communicate with, or drain into, any stream through which
fish could enter them. Fish are a deadly enemy of the mosquito and
devour him in the stage between the egg and the growth of his wings,
when he lives in water as a little whitish worm, such as you may have
seen wriggling in a rain-barrel.

It was found that by hunting out a dozen or twenty little pools of this
sort in the neighborhood of a town full of malaria, and filling them up,
or draining them, or pouring kerosene over the surface of the water, the
spread of the malaria in the town could be stopped and wiped out
absolutely. This has been accomplished even in such frightfully malarial
districts as the Panama Canal Zone, and the west coast of Africa, whose
famous jungle fever has prevented white men from getting a foothold
upon it for fifteen hundred years. Since the young mosquitoes, in the
form of wrigglers, or larvae, cannot grow except in still water,
draining the pools kills them; and, as they must come to the surface of
the water to breathe, pouring crude petroleum over the water--the oil
floating on the surface and making a film--chokes them.

The common garden mosquito, while not dangerous, is decidedly a nuisance
and can be exterminated in the same way--by draining the swamps and
pools, or by flooding them with crude petroleum,--or by draining swamps
or pools into fresh-water ponds and then putting minnows or other fish
into these ponds. There is no reason why any community calling itself
civilized should submit to be tormented by mosquitoes if it will spend
the few hundred, or the thousand, dollars necessary to wipe them out. It
is prophesied that the use of quinine will soon become as rare as it is
now common, because malaria will be wiped out by the prevention of the

Disinfectants. So far we have been considering how to attack the germs
after they have got into our bodies, or to prevent them from spreading
from one patient to another; but there is still another way in which
they may be attacked, and that is by killing, or poisoning them, outside
the body. This process is generally known as disinfection, and is
carried out either by baking, boiling, or steaming, or by the use of
strongly poisonous fluids or gases, known as disinfectants.

While fortunately none of these disease germs can breed, or reproduce
their kind, outside the human body, and while comparatively few of them
live very long outside the human body, they may, if mixed with food or
caught upon clothing, hangings, walls, or floors, remain in a sort of
torpid, but still infectious, condition for weeks or even months.
Consequently, it has become the custom to take all the bedding,
clothing, carpets, curtains, etc., that have touched a patient suffering
from a contagious disease, or have been in the room with him, and also
any books that he may have handled, any pens or pencils that he may have
used, and either destroy them, or bake, boil, or fumigate them with some
strong germicidal, or disinfectant, vapor.

This is usually done by closing up tightly the sick-room, putting into
it all clothing, bedding, pictures, books, hangings, and other articles
used during the illness (except wash-goods, which, of course, can be
sterilized by thorough boiling; and dishes and table utensils, which
also can be scalded and boiled); draping the carpet over chairs so as
to expose it on all sides, opening closets and drawers, and then filling
the room full of some strong germ-destroying fumes.

One of the best disinfectants, and the one now most commonly used by
boards of health for this purpose, is formaldehyde--a pungent,
irritating gas, which is an exceedingly powerful germ-destroyer. This,
for convenience in handling is usually dissolved, or forced into water,
which takes up about half its bulk; and the solution is then known as

When formalin is poured into an open dish, it rapidly evaporates, or
gives up its gas; and, if it be gently heated, this will be thrown off
in such quantities as to completely fill the room and penetrate every
crevice of it, and every fold of the clothing or hangings. One pound, or
pint, of formalin will furnish vapor enough to disinfect a room eight
feet square and eight feet high, so the amount for a given room can thus
be calculated. The formalin vapor will attack germs much more vigorously
and certainly if it be mixed with water vapor, or steam; so it is
usually best either to boil a large kettle of water in the room for half
an hour or more, so as to fill the air with steam, before putting in the
formalin, or to use a combination evaporator with a lamp underneath it,
which will give off both formalin and steam. This, if lighted and placed
on a dish in the centre of a wash-tub or a large dishpan, with two or
three inches of water in the bottom of it, can be put into the room and
left burning until it goes out of its own accord.

Another very good method is to take a pan, or basin, with the required
amount of formalin (not more than an inch or two inches deep) in the
bottom of it, get everything ready with doors and windows fastened tight
and strips of paper pasted across the cracks, pour quickly over the
formalin some permanganate of potash (about a quarter of a pound to each
pound of formalin), and then bolt for the door as quickly as possible
to avoid suffocation. The resulting boiling up, or effervescence, will
throw off quantities of formaldehyde gas so quickly as to drive it into
every cranny and completely through clothing, bedding, etc. The room
should be left closed up tightly for from twelve to thirty-six hours,
when it can be opened--only be careful how you go into it, first
sniffing two or three times to be sure that all the gas has leaked out,
or holding your breath till you can get the windows open; and in a few
hours the room will be ready for use again.

Another older and much less expensive disinfectant for this purpose is
common sulphur. From one to three pounds of this, according to the
size of the room, is burned by a specially prepared lamp in a pan placed
in the centre of a dishpan of water, and the vapor thus made is a very
powerful disinfectant. This, however, is a very poisonous and
suffocating gas (as you will remember if you have ever strangled on the
fumes of an old-fashioned sulphur match) and, compared with formalin, is
nearly five times as poisonous to human beings, or animals, and not half
so much so to the germs. Where formalin cannot be secured, sulphur is
very effective; but its only merit compared with formalin is that it is
cheaper, and more destructive to animal parasites and vermin such as
bugs, cockroaches, mice, rats, etc., when these happen to be present.
Formalin has the additional advantage of not tarnishing metal surfaces,
as sulphur does.

It is a good thing for every household and every schoolroom to have a
bottle of formalin on hand, so that you may sniff the vapor of it into
your nostrils and throat if you think you have been exposed to a cold,
or other infectious disease, or make a solution with which to wash your
hands, handkerchiefs, pencils, etc., after touching any dirt likely to
contain infection. Half a teaspoonful in a bowl of water is enough for
this. A saucerful of it placed in an air-tight box, or cabinet, will
make a disinfecting chamber in which pencils, books, etc., can be placed
over night; and a teaspoonful of it in a quart of water will make an
actively germ-destroying solution, which can be used to soak clothing,
clean out bedroom utensils, or pour down sinks, toilets, or drains. It
is a good thing also to pour a few teaspoonfuls occasionally on the
floor of the closets in which your shoes, trousers, dresses, and other
outdoor clothing are kept, as these are quite likely to be contaminated
by germs from the dust and dirt of the streets.

Formalin is one of the best and safest general disinfectants to use. Its
advantages are, that it is nearly ten times as powerful a germicide as
carbolic acid, or even corrosive sublimate, so that it may be used in a
solution so weak as to be practically non-poisonous to human beings. It
is so violently irritating to lips, tongue, and nostrils as to make it
almost impossible for even a child to swallow it, while the amount that
would be absorbed if taken into the mouth and spit out again would be
practically harmless, so far as danger to life is concerned, though it
would blister the lips and tongue.

Bacteria, our Best Friends. While, naturally, the bacteria that do us
harm by producing disease are the ones that have attracted our keenest
attention and that we talk about most, it must never be forgotten that
they form only a very, very small part of the total number of bacteria,
or germs. These tiny little germs swarm everywhere; and the mere fact
that we find bacteria in any place, or in any substance, is no proof
whatever that we are in danger of catching some disease there.

All our farm and garden soil, for instance, is full of bacteria that not
only are harmless, but give that soil all its richness, or fertility. If
you were to take a shovelful of rich garden earth and bake it in an
oven, so as to destroy absolutely all bacteria in it, you would have
spoiled it so that seeds would scarcely grow in it, and it would not
produce a good crop of anything. These little bacteria, sometimes called
the soil-bacteria, or bacteria of decay, swarm in all kinds of dead
vegetable and animal matter, such as leaves, roots, fruits, bodies of
animals, fishes, and insects, and cause them to decay or break down and
melt away. In doing this they produce waste substances, particularly
those that contain ammonia, or nitrates, or some other form of nitrogen,
which are necessary for the growth of plants or crops.

This is why soil can be made richer by scattering over it and plowing
into it manure, waste from slaughter houses, or any other kind of
decaying animal or vegetable matter. This is promptly attacked by the
bacteria of the soil and turned into these easily soluble plant foods.
The roots of the plants grown in the soil could no more take this food
directly from dead leaves or manure than you could live on sawdust or
cocoanut matting.

So, if it were not for these bacteria, or lower plants, there could be
no higher, or green, plants. As animals live either upon these green
plants, such as grass and grains, or upon the flesh of other animals
that live upon plants, we can see that without the bacteria there would
be no animal life, not even man. No bacteria, no higher life. It would
be safe to say that, out of every million bacteria in existence, at
least 999,999 are not only not harmful but helpful to us.

One large group of bacteria produces the well-known souring of milk; and
while this in itself is not especially desirable, yet the milk is still
wholesome and practically harmless, and its sourness prevents the growth
of a large number of other bacteria whose growth would quickly make it
dangerous and poisonous. Many races living in hot countries deliberately
sour all the milk directly after milking, by putting sour milk into it,
because, when soured, it will keep fairly wholesome for several days,
while if not soured it would entirely spoil and become unusable within
twenty-four hours.

Another group of bacteria, which float about in the air almost
everywhere, are the yeasts, which we harness to our use for the very
wholesome and healthful process of bread-making. Millions upon millions
of bacteria of different sorts live and grow naturally in our stomachs
and intestines; and while they are probably of no special advantage to
us, yet at the same time the majority of them are practically, within
reasonable limits--not to exceed a few billions or so--harmless.

Insect Pests. One kind of dirt that should be avoided with special
care is insects of all sorts. No one needs to be told to try to keep a
house, or a room, clear of fleas, bed-bugs, or lice; indeed to have
these creatures about is considered a mortal disgrace. Not only is their
bite very unpleasant, but they may convey a variety of diseases,
including plague and blood poisonings of various sorts. But there is
another insect pest far commoner and far more dangerous than either
fleas or bed-bugs, whose presence we should feel equally ashamed of; and
that is the common house fly. This filthy little insect breeds in, and
feeds upon, filth, manure, garbage, and dirt of all sorts, and then
comes and crawls over our food, falls into our milk, wipes his feet on
our sugar and cake, crawls over the baby's face, and makes a general
nuisance of himself. Take almost any fly that you can catch, let him
crawl over a culture plate of gelatin, put that gelatin away in a warm
place, and you will find a perfect flower-garden of germs growing up all
over it, following the pattern made by the tracks of his dirty feet. In
this garden will be found not silver bells and cockle shells and pretty
maids all in a row, but a choice mixture of typhoid bacilli, pus germs,
the germs of putrefaction, tubercle bacilli, and the little seeds which,
if planted in our own bodies, would blossom as pneumonia or diphtheria.

The fly is an unmitigated nuisance and should be wiped out. No half-way
measures should be considered. Fortunately, this is perfectly possible;
for his presence is our own fault and nothing else, as he can lay his
eggs and hatch only in piles of dirt and filth found about our own
houses, barns, and outbuildings. He is not a wild insect but a domestic
one and is practically never found more than a few hundred yards away
from some house or barnyard. His favorite place for breeding is in piles
of stable manure, especially horse manure; but neglected garbage cans,
refuse heaps, piles of dirt and sweepings, decaying matter of all sorts,
which are allowed to remain for more than ten days or two weeks at a
time, will give him the breeding grounds that he needs.

It takes him about two weeks to hatch and get away from these breeding
places; so that if everything of this sort is cleaned up carefully once
a week, or if, where manure heaps and garbage dumps have to remain for
longer periods, they are sprinkled with arsenic, kerosene, corrosive
sublimate, chloride of lime, or carbolic acid, he will perish and
disappear as surely as grass will if you wash away the soil in which it
grows. The presence of a fly means a dirty house or a dirty yard
somewhere, and to discover a fly in your house should be considered a
disgrace. Until people are aroused to the need of such cleanliness as
will make flies disappear entirely, in most places it will be necessary,
as warm weather approaches, to screen all doors and windows, and
particularly all boxes, pantries, or refrigerators in which food is
kept. If you cannot afford screens, use fly paper. These are all,
however, only half-way measures and will give only partial relief. The
best prevention of flies is absolute cleanliness. No dirt, no flies.

Dust, a Source of Danger. Dust is an easily recognized form of dirt.
It is dangerous in itself and nearly always contains germs of one sort
or another mixed in with it. Shops and factories whose processes make
much dust are usually very unhealthy for the workers, who are likely to
show a high death-rate from consumption.

Dust should be fought and avoided in every possible way. City streets
should have good modern pavements,--preferably asphalt or some crude
petroleum, or sawmill-waste, crust, or coating,--which will not make
any dust, and which can be washed down every night with a hose. In
smaller towns where there is no pavement, dust may be prevented by
regular sprinklings during the summer, preferably with some form of
crude oil. Two or three full sprinklings of this will keep down the dust
for the greater part of the summer.

If these measures are properly carried out, they will prevent most of
the dust that accumulates in houses, as nearly all of this blows in
through the windows or is carried in on shoes or skirts. When this has
once floated in and settled down upon the walls, furniture, or carpets,
be very careful how you disturb it; for, as long as it lies there, it
will do you no harm, however untidy it may look. The broom and the
feather duster and the dry cloth do almost as much harm as they do good;
for while they may remove two-thirds of the dust from a room, they drive
the other third right into your nose and throat, where the germs it
contains can do the most possible harm. Dusting should always be done
with a damp cloth; sweeping, with a damp cloth tied over a broom; and,
wherever possible, a carpet sweeper, or, better still, a vacuum cleaner,
should be used instead of a broom.

Carpets, window curtains, and any hangings that catch dust should be
abolished--rugs that can be rolled up and taken out of doors to be
shaken and beaten should be used instead; and too many pieces of
bric-a-brac and ornaments should be avoided. All surfaces of walls,
ceilings, and floors should be made as smooth and hard and free from
angles, ledges, and projecting lines as possible. The colds usually
caught by members of the family during spring cleaning are usually due
to the swarms of germs stirred up from their peaceful resting places.
Let those sleeping germs lie, until you can devise some means of
removing them without brushing, or whisking, them straight into your

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