Chapter 51 : Dissenters: Max von Pettenkofer and Friedrich Wolter

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Dissenters: Max von Pettenkofer and Friedrich Wolter, Page 1 of 2

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Scientists who repudiated Louis Pasteur’s views on spontaneous generation, like the physicians who challenged Joseph Lister’s innovations in antiseptic surgery, are readily dismissed as rather pathetic footnotes to the history of microbiology. Around the turn of the century, in Munich and Paris, respectively, Max von Pettenkofer and Elie Metchnikoff drank cultures of from patients who had died of cholera. Their work clearly and usefully established that factors such as nutrition can have a profound influence on communicable disease. The simplistic view, prevalent at the time, that an infection was the inevitable outcome whenever its specific agent encountered a host, was a gross oversimplification. This is a lesson that needs to be relearned in every generation, as exemplified by some of the disagreements during the 1990s about the cause of AIDS. Koch’s 1896 report clearly reflected the supreme importance of , which he had discovered 13 years earlier, in causing the disease, but Wolter was not convinced. Pettenkofer’s “soil doctrine” was by no means unfashionable. He argued that the principal causes of cholera and other conditions were miasmata emitted by certain terrains. Though embracing an incorrect thesis, Pettenkofer had both conceded a possible role for microorganisms in disease and encouraged adherents of the germ theory to produce better evidence for their views. Wolter, on the other hand, became increasingly extreme in rejecting the germ theory, especially after Pettenkofer’s death.

Citation: Dixon B. 2009. Dissenters: Max von Pettenkofer and Friedrich Wolter, p 238-241. In Animalcules. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817442.ch51
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1. Dubos, R. 1960. Mirage of Health. Allen & Unwin, London, United Kingdom.
2. Howard-Jones, N. 1980. Friedrich Wolter (1863–?1944): the last anticontagionist. Br. Med. J. 180: 372 373.

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