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Turning the tides against infectious diseases: The microbial pathologist’s nexus

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A Microbial Pathologist is a Medical Doctor, who specializes in Pathology, with emphasis on infectious diseases.

Pathology is the study of the basis of suffering (diseases). So a Microbial Pathologist is a specialist Doctor focusing on the infectious basis of human diseases with particular attention on the origin, the process of developing, laboratory diagnosis and management of infectious diseases. Some people erroneously call me Microbiologist. I have forgiven them. They should go and sin no more. A Microbial Pathologist must relate well with other Doctor Colleagues, fellow Pathologists, all Laboratory Medicine staff and directly or indirectly with all patients with infectious diseases.

A Microbial Pathologist is, therefore, best suited as we work with other professionals to investigate and diagnose infectious diseases, develop new tests for infectious diseases’ diagnosis, validate and revalidate laboratory reagents and procedures with the determination to ensure standards in laboratory Medicine as it relates to the management of infectious diseases and directly treat cases of severe infections. A Microbial Pathologist is a Specialist Venereologist (management of Sexually Transmitted Infections - STIs). Every request sent to Laboratory Medicine department of Microbial Pathology is a consult to the Microbial Pathologist. The process for the generation of result and the duties and responsibilities of all staff involved in the process is determined by him/her. A reliable result must have his approval for the good of society.

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It can, therefore, be summarized that a Microbial Pathologist is a Physician, a Laboratory Medicine Manager/Director, a Medical Microbiologist and a Physician in Infectious Diseases. Until the establishment of UNIMED, Ondo state had no single Microbial Pathologist in its employment. This definitely has prevented the effective management of infectious diseases in the state. Even currently, the few Pathologists are finding it extremely difficult.

The management of UNIMEDTH can attest to this. Microorganisms and Man Mr Vice Chancellor Sir, man and microorganisms are inseparable. Microorganisms live within and around us. Microbes shape our world from fermentation of sugar to wine, in causing the bread to rise, cheese making, and production of vitamins such as vitamin K in humans. What about antibiotics and insulin production? Vital to note is that the biochemical and genetic activities in humans are similar to that of microorganisms and these have been put into human benefits in the study of genetic processes, in genetic engineering and modulation of genes for human benefits.

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The contribution of microorganisms to human health was unknown in medieval time when leprosy was associated with so much discrimination and ostracism. It was same through the era of Black Death caused by Yersinia pestis that led to the death of about 60% of populations in Europe and countless numbers from other parts of the world in the 14th century. The heavy death toll was chronicled in Florence as: ‘’All the citizens did little else except to carry dead bodies to be buried [...] At every church they dug deep pits down to the water-table, and thus those who were poor who died during the night were bundled up quickly and thrown into the pit.

In the morning when a large number of bodies were found in the pit, they took some earth and shovelled it down on top of them; and later others were placed on top of them and then another layer of earth, …….’’ (Ole J. Benedictow 2005). Today we know the causative agents of most infectious diseases. We know HIV in AIDS and its global destructive phenomenon, what about mycobacteria in tuberculosis and our deadly friend, Plasmodium in Malaria? Kindly bring to mind the current menace of Hepatitis B and C in viral hepatitis. What about viruses associated with Lassa fever, Ebola viral disease, China Coronavirus respiratory disease called COVID-19, just to mention a few.

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In those days, (even until about 400 years ago), microorganisms, though extremely important and many times, deadly, were not considered to exist. Following the discovery of Microbial world by Anthon van Leeuwenhoek, of Holland (1632-1723), which he called “animalcules” in his series of letters to the British Royal Society, was when the man had the first documented proof of the existence of microorganisms (Sciencehistory.org, 2017; Chung and Liu, 2017). One major human progress after the discovery of microorganism is Edward Jenner’s successful use of cowpox lesion in 1798, to immunize people against smallpox. (Riedel 2005; Sciencehistory.org, 2017) Even at the discovery of microorganisms, the erroneous belief that living things can be generated by non-living things (Theory of Abiogenesis) was a plaque in science. Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) and John Tyndall (1820-1893) use their experiments to silence the erroneous concept of abiogenesis. Along the line, Robert Koch (1843-1910), in addition to the discovery of causative agents of anthrax developed the ‘Koch’s postulate’. The discovery of the ‘Pure’ culture technique by Joseph Lister in 1878 using serial dilutions in liquid media, brought a great boost to the discovery of agents of infectious diseases. (Tyndal, 1882; Bankston, 2004).

The discovery of the first viruses, the tobacco mosaic virus in 1892, by Dimitri Ivanovsky (1864 to 1920). This he discovered through his observations: “the sap of leaves infected with tobacco mosaic disease retains its infectious properties even after filtration. This observation suggested a disease agent smaller than any previously known agent and was the first step in a long series of observations and experiments that led to the discovery of viruses. (Lustig and Arnold1992)

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The discovery of antimicrobialbegan in 1935 with the sulfonamides and its introduction by Gerhard Domagk (1895–1964). In 1940, the usefulness of penicillin earlier discovered in 1929 by Flemings was demonstrated. These were pioneer antimicrobials showing that bacterial diseases are vulnerable to substances not natural to the human body (Science History Institute 2017).

Odimayo is Professor of Microbial Pathology/Infectious Diseases delivered this inaugural lecture series 1 in Ilorin, recently.

Doctors and infectious diseases
A lot of progress has been made by Doctors in the field of infectious diseases. We can bring to remembrance the discovery of anthrax, Tuberculosis, cholera as you remember Robert Koch. The algorithm for the definition of the infectious agent of a disease popularly known as Koch’s postulate was developed by Robert Koch(1843-1910). The German doctor also made significant contributions to the development of the first ‘magic bullets’ (antimicrobials I.e chemicals developed to attack specific microorganisms). Robert Koch was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1905 (Lakhtakia 2014). It is heart-warming to remember Gerhard H. A. Hansen. The doctor from Norway who identified the germ that is responsible for leprosy. Under a microscope in 1873, Hansen’s discovery of Mycobacterium leprae proved that leprosy is caused by a germ, and thus not heredity, nor from a curse, nor from a sin.

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The initial use of sulfone therapy by Dr. Guy Faget of Carville in1941, the discovery that the footpad of mouse supported the multiplication of M. Leprae was by Dr. Charles shepard of the center for Disease control in 1959 and the demonstration that the nine-banded armadillo is highly susceptible to developing disseminated Hansen’s disease after inoculation with the M. leprae was made by Dr. Waldemar Kirchheimer of Carville and Dr. Eleanor Storrs of the Gulf South Research Institue in 1963. (Leprosy/references2005; Trautman J. R. 1984) In the 18th century in Europe, 400,000 people died annually from smallpox, and one-third of the survivors went blind. Jenner’s work represented the first scientific attempt to control an infectious disease by the deliberate use of cowpox to protect people against smallpox. His discovery later led to the eradication of small pox in 1977. (Riedel 2005) The erroneous Aristotelian concept of spontaneous generation (abiogenesis) was prevalent before late 1800. Pasteur (1822-1895) and John Tyndall a Scotland physician (1820-1893) performed experiments that finally silenced the concept of abiogenesis. (Tyndall 1966)

Odimayo is Professor of Microbial Pathology/Infectious Diseases delivered this inaugural lecture series 1 in Ondo, recently.

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