We should wash our hands before meals as a protection against infections. We live in a world full of germs (micro-organisms or microbes) and those, which are dangerous to us, prefer to live and multiply in organic material. So it is wise to remove as many as possible before coming into contact with food, which provides an ideal breeding ground.
Most of what are commonly called germs are harmless and some are even beneficial. Others, which are called pathogenic (disease producing), invade the body and live by feeding off body tissues.
Bacteria, which are tiny single-called organisms, cause diseases such as diphtheria, cholera, leprosy, whooping-cough, typhoid fever, tetanus and scarlet fever, etc. Viruses are so small that scientists can see them only under immensely powerful electron microscopes. Yet they are responsible for an enormous range of human diseases, from clods to rabies.
In hospitals, antisepsis and asepsis are used to maintain standards of hygiene. Antisepsis aims to destroy germs already present in a wound by applying chemicals. Asepsis keeps the germs away from wounds though the sterilization of the surgeon’s hands, instruments, dressings and every other possible source of any infection.
The antiseptic system was introduced into surgery by Lord Lister (1827-1912) who worked on the discoveries on the French scientists Louis Pasteur (1822-95). At first he used pure carbolic acid, which was too strong and often damaged human tissue. Then better disinfectants were discovered.
The method of asepsis began, with the sterilization of instruments by superheated steam. Penicillin and other new drugs have made the control of germs much less difficult.