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The general public, however, is hardly yet fully alive to the capacity for mischief possessed and exercised by the common house-fly. True, it is universally execrated and regarded as a tiresome attendant upon the summer months, but it is not usually considered in any more serious light. That however, the comparative indulgence with which this homely insect pest has been treated is decidedly misplaced and fraught with danger to health, the researches of numerous scientists have now conclusively proved.
As long ago as the year 1888 Professor Celli showed that the germs of consumption, anthrax, and typhoid fever could pass through the digestive organs of flies and reappear in the excreta of the latter not only alive but in full possession of their disease-producing powers. Dr. Sawtschenko made similar experiments with cholera germs. Healthy flies were placed under glass shades and fed with broth in which these micro-organisms were growing, and the latter were not only subsequently recovered from the digestive organs of the flies but also from their excreta in a living and virulent condition.
This is, however, not the only means whereby these insects can distribute deadly and other microbes, for it has been shown that in crawling over substances containing bacteria these may become attached to the feet of Aies, and are in
this manner transferred to other materials upon which they may alight, just as Pasteur showed many years earlier silkworms can communicate the fatal plague of pébrine by crawling over each other's bodies, carrying in their disease-laden feet the infection from one worm to another. During the recent outbreak of bubonic plague in the East the part played by flies in disseminating the virus has been repeatedly emphasised. Yersin was the first who called attention to the presence in large numbers of virulent plague bacilli within the bodies of flies which he collected in the vicinity of plague-stricken persons, and it was found that flies which had fed on plague-infected material and were then isolated lived for several days afterwards, during which time virulent plague bacilli were present in their bodies in immense numbers; thus were these insects converted into winged messengers of evil of the most repulsive type.
I am not aware whether any experiments on the vitality and transmissibility of diphtheria and consumption germs by means of flies have been made; but in view of the overwhelming evidence of the culpability of these insects in spreading plague, it is not unreasonable to presume a responsibility on their behalf in regard to other diseases; indeed, in the report issued by the Army Medical Commissioners of the Spanish-American
War, it is emphatically stated that flies played an important part in the dissemination of typhoid fever.
There is no question as to the capability of certain micro-organisms to reside for considerable periods of time within the bodies of flies, and during this sojourn to abate no jot of their virulence. Indeed, it has been shown that the bodies of these insects may constitute incubators of a most successful type, for some varieties of bacteria grow luxuriantly and multiply abundantly within them.
In the hot days of summer, when flies abound, it would be well to banish these insects, as far as lies in our power, not only from our sick-rooms in particular, but from our general surroundings. The catholic taste of flies for garbage of all kinds is too well known to require entering into, but the consequences which may follow from their visits to dustbins and centres of disease, and then alighting upon our food or persons, has received too little attention in the past.
In regard to the subject of insects as disease disseminators, it may be mentioned that Mr. Hankin, when studying plague conditions in India, expressed his belief that ants in Bombay also assisted in spreading the scourge, for he found that when he inoculated mice with the excreta of
ants, such insects having previously fed on plaguestricken rats, the mice succumbed to plague in a few hours. Fleas have also been conclusively proved to be carriers of plague germs.
There is no doubt that the revelations of hygienic science have aroused the vigilance and zeal of public authorities in various new directions to try and cope with the spread of zymotic disease.
In no direction, perhaps, is the fruit of this energy so apparent as in the increasing supervision which it has incited over two of the greatest menaces to public health which hang over society -ie. our water and dairy supplies. Now that it has been proven beyond doubt that the germs of consumption, typhoid fever, and cholera can be and are distributed through the consumption of contaminated milk or water, not to mention other diseases such as diphtheria and scarlet fever, an ever-increasing demand is being made that these all-important articles of diet shall be protected from pollution, and that public authorities shall be made responsible for their distribution in a pure and wholesome condition.
It is, however, undoubtedly in the matter of water that the greatest service has been rendered by bacteriology to sanitary science, and for the important advance in this department we are
indebted to the beautifully simple and ingenious methods devised by Robert Koch.
Not yet twenty years have passed since the new bacterial examination of water was introduced and systematically employed, and the use which has been made of the opportunities thus opened up of investigating water problems on an entirely new basis is shown by the voluminous dimensions which the literature on this one branch of bacteriology alone has reached. Considerably upwards of two hundred different water bacteria have been isolated, studied, and their distinctive characters chronicled. The behaviour of typhoid, cholera, and other disease-producing microbes in waters of various kinds has been made the subject of exhaustive experiments; the purification power of time-honoured processes in operation at waterworks and elsewhere has been for the first time accurately estimated. Water engineers have through these bacteriological researches been provided with a code of conduct drawn up by the light of erudite scientific inquiries, which has now rendered possible the removal of the process of water purification from the rule of empiricism guided by tradition, and to raise it to the level of an intelligent and scientific undertaking.
The above short sketch may serve to convey some idea of the rise and phenomenal develop