Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/488

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462
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

infectious without being contagious. When, with reference to a case of typhoid fever in his own house, a man asks the question, "Is it contagious?" he does not wish to know whether or not some one in the next street may take the disease, but whether or not there is a likelihood of its spreading among the members of his own household, and whether or not there is danger in going near the sufferer. The only accurate and proper meaning of the word is that attached to it in the definition which I have given. That, therefore, is the sense in which it is used in this paper.

What is the nature of the poisons which pass from the sick to the healthy? Their most distinctive peculiarity is, that they are largely reproduced in the system during the course of the maladies to which they give rise. The minutest possible portion of small-pox matter, for instance, may be introduced into the system of a person who has not had that disease, and who has not been vaccinated, with the certainty of giving rise to a malady during whose course there will be formed many thousand times as much of the poison as sufficed to set the disease agoing.

Contagion, then, consists physically of minute solid particles. The process of contagion is the passage of these from the bodies of the sick into the surrounding atmosphere, and in the inhalation of one or more of them by those in the immediate neighborhood. If contagion were a gaseous or vapory emanation, it would be equally diffused through the sick-room, and all who entered it would, if susceptible, suffer alike and inevitably. But such is not the case; for many people are exposed for weeks and months without suffering. Of two persons situated in exactly the same circumstances, and exposed in exactly the same degree to a given contagion, one may suffer and the other escape. The explanation of this is, that the little particles of contagion are irregularly scattered about in the atmosphere, so that the inhalation of one or more of them is purely a matter of chance, such chance bearing a direct relation to the number of particles which exist in a given cubic space. Suppose that a hundred germs are floating about in a room containing two thousand cubic feet of air. There is one germ for every twenty cubic feet. Naturally the germs will be most numerous in the immediate neighborhood of their source, the person of the sufferer; but, excepting this one place, they may be pretty equally distributed through the room; or they may be very unequally distributed. A draught across the bed may carry them now to one side, now to the other. The mass of them may be near the ceiling, or near the floor. In a given twenty cubic feet, there may be a dozen germs, or there may be none at all. One who enters the room may inhale a germ before he has been in it ten minutes; or he may remain there for an hour without doing so. Double the number of germs, and you double the danger. Diminish the size of the room by one half, and you do the same. Keep the windows shut, and you keep the germs in; open