In GCSE Science students will look at the requirements for staying healthy. This is the fifth of six quizzes on that topic and it looks specifically at fighting pathogens which cause disease, such as bacteria and viruses.
We have Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis to thank for modern standards of hygiene in our hospitals. He discovered that more women were dying in maternity wards manned by doctors than in those manned by midwives. He realised the difference was that the doctors performed post-mortems on women who died from a disease called 'childbed fever' but the midwives only delivered babies from healthy women. At the time, doctors didn't bother washing their hands so they were passing on the pathogens which cause infection to healthy patients.
Semmelweis got his team to wash their hands between patients and after the post mortems, and this solved the problem. Even so, it took a while for the practice to become widely accepted in the medical profession. The problem was, they did not know that bacteria (and viruses) cause disease.
We now know and understand the causes of diseases and infections a lot better, and so we can help our bodies to defend themselves against harmful microorganisms. We have a wide range of antibiotics that help when fighting infections, and vaccines that reduce our chances of getting certain diseases in the first place.
But we have some problems fighting pathogens that mutate. MRSA is a strain of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics and this creates a problem in our hospitals. Viruses that mutate can be deadly as we have little resistance to them. A bout of the 'flu is not pleasant but our bodies can ultimately deal with it, however, some strains of this virus, like H1N1 (bird 'flu) can become killers as our immune systems cannot cope with the mutated form.