Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 58.djvu/249

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241
PHYSICAL AGENTS AND BACTERIAL LIFE.

to harbor bacteria, are more important points than air disinfection, and this fact has been recognized in modern surgery. In an investigation, in conjunction with Mr. Lunt, an estimation was arrived at of the ratio existing between the number of dust particles and bacteria in the air. We used Dr. Aitken's dust-counter, which not only renders the air dust particles visible, but gives a means of counting them in a sample of air. In an open suburb of London we found 20,000 dust particles in 1 cubic centimeter of air; in a yard in the center of London about 500,000. The dust contamination we found to be about 900 per cent, greater in the center of London than in a quiet suburb. In the open air of London there was on an average just one organism to every 38,300,000 dust particles present in the air, and in the air of a room, amongst 184,000,000 dust particles, only one organism could be detected.

These figures illustrate forcibly the poverty of the air in microorganisms, even when very dusty, and likewise the enormous dilution they undergo in the atmosphere. Their continued existence is rendered difficult through the influence of desiccation and sunlight. Desiccation is one of nature's favorite methods for getting rid of bacteria. Moisture is necessary for their development and their vital processes, and constitutes about 80 per cent, of their cell-substance. When moisture is withdrawn most bacterial cells, unless they produce resistant forms of the nature of spores, quickly succumb. The organism of cholera air-dried in a thin film dies in three hours. The organisms of diphtheria, typhoid fever and tuberculosis show more resistance, but die in a few weeks or months.

Dust containing tubercle bacilli may be carried about by air currents, and the bacilli in this way transferred from an affected to a healthy individual. It may, however, be said that drying attenuates and kills most of these forms of life in a comparatively short time. The spores of certain bacteria may, on the other hand, live for many years in a dried condition, e. g., the spores of anthrax bacilli, which are so infective for cattle and also for man (wool-sorters' disease). Fortunately few pathogenic bacteria possess spores, and, therefore, drying by checking and destroying their life is a physical agent that plays an important role in the elimination of infectious diseases. This process is aided by the marked bactericidal action of sunlight. Sunlight, which has a remarkable fostering influence on higher plant life, does not exercise the same influence on the bacteria. With few exceptions we must grow them in the dark in order to obtain successful cultures; and a sure way of losing our cultures is to leave them exposed to the light of day. Direct sunlight is the most deadly agent, and kills a large number of organisms in the short space of one to two hours; direct sunlight proves fatal to the typhoid bacillus in