What Is A Disease?

The medical definition of a disease is a condition that blocks normal body functions. For example, diabetes is a disease because the pancreas is not producing enough insulin to regulate blood sugar. As a result, the normal body function of regulating blood glucose levels is blocked. By definition, diabetes is a disease.
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If you tie a tourniquet around your finger, the blood flow is restricted. The tissue below the tourniquet does not receive blood flow containing life-giving oxygen and nutrients. The finger dies, becomes gangrenous and you lose your finger. Is this a disease? It meets the definition. Probably not, although gangrene would certainly be classified as a disease, the proximate cause of losing the finger was the tourniquet.

Definitions are helpful, but not, as I have demonstrated, the last word. Definitions beget more definitions, clarifications and exceptions.

Disease, the scourge of mankind, the death of the Martians in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and the most challenging problem we face as a species. Disease has wiped out whole populations. Consider the fate of the indigenous peoples when the Spanish Conquistadors first set foot in the New World. Plague, smallpox, and a host of other maladies came with them and killed more of the native population than guns, arrows and swords combined.

What have we really learned in the past 200 years about battling these microbial killers? Not nearly enough! A cure for the common cold eludes us to this very day! In fact, we have no cure for viral infections of any kind! AIDS, the common cold, influenza, and other viral diseases cannot be cured. In some cases, they can be averted by vaccines, but this is prevention, not cure.

Now, bacterial infections, once vanquished by penicillin and erythromycin, are evolving into resistant strains that are virtually immune to these, the miracle drugs of their day. So along came amoxicillin, tetracycline and a host of other antibiotics. Why is this happening? There is no single cause, but rather, a number of factors working in concert to thwart our efforts to cure disease. Below I have listed what I believe to be the chief causes of drug resistant strains of bacteria.

  • Over prescribing antibiotics – Every sniffle, cough and sneeze we experience does not require that we rush to the doctor’s office for a cure. We have gradually allowed ourselves to become dependent on antibiotics with the result our own immune systems have not been afforded the opportunity to develop antibodies to these common ills.
  • Commercial exploitation of our fear of germs – To wit, antibacterial counter cleaners, antibacterial bath soap, antibacterial hand gel, antibacterial laundry detergent, antibacterial socks, antibacterial ultraviolet wands, and sundry other antibacterial products are helping to create resistant bacteria.
  • Improper use of prescription antibiotics – Too many of us fail to follow instructions. We are prescribed a course of antibiotic and instead of completing the medication; we stop taking it when we feel better. This allows surviving resistant bacteria to multiply and spread.
  • We have been aware of the dangers of antibiotic resistant mutants within populations of bacteria as early as 1943, when this risk was proven in the Luria-Delbruck experiment.

    It’s time we cowboy up and allow our bodies to do what nature designed them to do.

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