Towards the end of Louis Pasteur's life, he confessed that germs may not be the cause of disease after all, but may simply be another symptom of disease. He had come to realize that germs seem to lead to illness primarily when the person's immune and defense system (what biologists call "host resistance") is not strong enough to combat them. The "cause" of disease is not simply a bacteria but also the factors that compromise host resistance, including the person's hereditary endowment, his nutritional state, the stresses in his life, and his psychological state. In describing one of his experiments with silkworms, Pasteur asserted that the microorganisms present in such large numbers in the intestinal tract of the sick worms were "more an effect than a cause of disease." (1)
With these far-reaching insights Pasteur conceived an ecological understanding of infectious disease. Infectious disease does not simply have a single cause but is the result of a complex web of interactions within and outside the individual.
The Homeopathic and Ecological View of Infectious Disease
An analogy to help develop an understanding of the ecological perspective of infectious disease can be developed from the situation of mosquitoes and swamps. It is commonly known that mosquitoes infest swamps because swamps provide the still waters necessary for the mosquitoes to lay their eggs and for them to hatch without disruption. In essence, swamps are a perfect environment for the mosquitoes to reproduce.
A farmer might try to rid his land of mosquitoes by spraying insecticide over the swamps. If lucky, he will kill all the mosquitoes. However, because the swamp is still a swamp, it is still a perfect environment for new mosquitoes to fly in and to lay their eggs. The farmer then sprays his insecticide again, only to find that more mosquitoes infest the swamp. Over time, some mosquitoes do not get sprayed with fatal doses of the insecticide. Instead, they adapt to the insecticide that they have ingested, and with each generation they are able to pass an increased immunity to the insecticide on to their offspring.
Soon, the farmer must use stronger and stronger varieties of insecticide, but as the result of their adaption, some mosquitoes are able to survive, despite exposure to the insecticide. Similarly, finding streptococcus in a child's throat does not necessarily mean that the strep "caused" a sore throat, any more than one could say that the swamp "caused" the mosquitoes. Streptococcus often inhabits the throat of healthy people without leading to a sore throat. Symptoms of strep throat only begin if there are favorable conditions for the strep to reproduce rapidly and aggressively invade the throat tissue. Strep, like mosquitoes, will only settle and grow in conditions which are conducive for them.
The child with the strep throat generally gets treated with antibiotics. Although the antibiotics may be effective in getting rid of the bacteria temporarily, they do not change the factors that led to the infection in the first place. When the farmer sprays with insecticide or the physician prescribes antibiotics but doesn't change the conditions which created the problem, the mosquitoes and the bacteria are able to return to those environments that are favorable for their growth.
To make matters worse, the antibiotics kill the beneficial bacteria along with the harmful bacteria. Since the beneficial bacteria play an important role in digestion, the individual's ability to assimilate necessary nutrients to his body is temporarily limited, ultimately making him more prone to reinfection or other illness in the meantime.
Marc Lappe', PhD, University of Illinois professor and author of When Antibiotics Fail, notes that, "When these more benevolent counterparts die off, they leave behind a literal wasteland of vacant tissue and organs. These sites, previously occupied with normal bacteria, are now free to be colonized with new ones. Some of these new ones have caused serious and previously unrecognized diseases." (2)
Some clinicians have found that inappropriate antibiotic usage can transform common vaginal "yeast" infections (candida albicans), which are characterized by simple itching, into a system-wide candida infection which can cause a variety of acute and chronic problems. (3) Although the diagnosis of "systemic candidiasis" is controversial, there is general consensus that frequent antibiotic use can also transform bacteria that normally live in our bodies without creating any problems into irritating and occasionally serious infections in the elderly, the infirm, and the immunodepressed. (4)
And of course, the bacteria learn to adapt to and survive antibiotics. Scientists then must slightly change the antibiotics (there are over 300 varieties of penicillin alone), or make stronger and stronger antibiotics (which generally also have more and more serious side effects). Despite the best efforts of scientists, Dr. Lappe' asserts that we are creating many more germs than we are medicines, since each new antibiotic brings to life literally millions of Benedict Arnolds.
Just 15-20 years ago penicillin was virtually always successful in treating gonorrhea. Now there are gonorrhea bacteria which have learned to resist penicillin, and these bacteria have now been found in all fifty states as well as throughout the world. From 1983 to 1984 alone the number of cases in the U.S. with resistant strains of gonorrhea doubled. (5)
Alexander Fleming, the scientist who discovered penicillin, cautioned against the overuse of antibiotics. Unless the scientific community and the general public heed his warning, Harvard professor Walter Gilbert, a Nobel prizewinner in chemistry, asserted, "There may be a time down the road when 80% to 90% of infections will be resistant to all known antibiotics." (6)
The scientific community and the general public have ignored the insights of the late Pasteur and have ignored the importance of host resistance in preventing illness. Most scientists broadly accepted the germ theory, while only rare individuals have since acknowledged the importance of the ecological balance of microorganisms in the body. But the wisdom of Pasteur remains relevant, and more and more scientists are beginning to acknowledge the importance of alternatives to antibiotics. Even an editorial in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine affirmed the need for the treatment of infections with "less ecologically disturbing techniques." (7) Homeopathic medicines will inevitably play a major role as one of these alternatives.
Are Antibiotics Helpful in Ear and Throat Infections?
Claude Bernard, the esteemed "father of experimental physiology," affirmed Pasteur's contention that bacteria are not the cause of disease. In his most famous book, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, Bernard said, "If the exciting cause were the principle factor, for instance, in pneumonia, everyone exposed to cold would come down with this disease, whereas only an occassional case of chilll turns into pneumonia. Unless the subject is predisposed, the most powerful causes will have no effect on him. Predisposition is the 'pivot of all experimental physiology' and the real cause of most disease." (8)
At a health conference in 1976 Jonas Salk noted that there are basically two ways to heal sick people. First, one can try to control the individual symptoms the sick person is experiencing, and second, one can try to stimulate the person's own immune and defense system to enable the body to heal itself. (9) Whereas conventional medicine's allegiance is to the first approach, homeopathy and a wide variety of natural healing systems attempt the latter.
A good example of the questionable value of antibiotic use is their application in children's earache. Ear infection has become one of the most common childhood illness. The infection of the middle ear and eardrum is called "otitis media," a condition for which most physicians prescribe antibiotics. Several researchers, however, have found that antibiotics do not improve health of children compared to those not given antibiotics. (10) Others have found that antibiotics provide a brief relief of symptoms, but subsequently there was no difference compared to those children given placebo. (11) Still others have found that 70% of children with otitis media still had fluid in the ear after four weeks of treatment and that 50% of children experience another ear infection within three months. (12)
Although some physicians assert that antibiotics are responsible for the presently low incidence of complications from ear infections such as mastoiditis, research has shown that there no evidence that antibiotics reduce the incidence of mastoiditis. (13) Homeopaths claim a similarly low complication rate without the use of antibiotics. (14)
One of the more significant studies showed that patients with ear infection who were treated with antibiotics had appreciably more recurrences (as much as 2.9 times) than those people who didn't use any treatment. (15)
In chronic ear infection it has become standard procedure for physicians to use ear tubes in conjunction with antibiotics or in place of it. These tubes help drain the pus from the ear, but this treatment only deals with the results of the problem; it does nothing to treat the reason the infection was able to spread in the first place. This physiological fact may be the reason ear tubes have been found to be of questionable value. (16)
Antibiotics and ear tubes treat symptoms of a problem. They do not strengthen the organism so that it can fight the infection itself, nor do they make the organism less resistant to future infection.
Another myth which continues to be perpetuated is that of the value of antibiotics in treating sore throats. The primary rationale for using antibiotics to treat a sore throat has been to prevent the person from getting rheumatic fever, a potentially fatal condition. Researchers point out that there is presently an extremely low incidence of rheumatic fever. (17)* This low incidence is not the result of antibiotic use because there was a decrease in rheumatic fever incidence even prior to antibiotic use.
[* In 1986 there have been some reports of new outbreaks of rheumatic fever in some parts of the United States. However, Ellen Wald, M.D., medical director of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, noted that too-early treatment with antibiotics may impair the body's normal immunlogic response and open up the possibility of reinfection, and that this problem must be weighed against the benefit of possibly preventing rheumatic fever. One study showed that those children who were treated with antibiotics immediately upon diagnosis had eight times the recurrent rate of strep throat compared to those children who delayed treatment. (18) In the context of other studies cited in this chapter, it may be worthwhile to compare those who received delayed treatment with those who received no antibiotics. It may also be worthwhile to compare these groups with a group of people prescribed a homeopathic medicine.]
Recent research has even determined that today's strains of streptococcus very rarely cause rheumatic fever (19) and that antibiotics do not even eradicate the strep in 25-40% of the cases, despite demonstrated sensitivity of the organism to the antibiotic. (20)