Light and Disease
The far-reaching effect which light has upon some inanimate objects, such as photographic films and clothes, leads us to inquire into the relation which exists between light and living things. We know from daily observation that plants must have light in order to thrive and grow. A healthy plant brought into a dark room soon loses its vigor and freshness, and becomes yellow and drooping. Plants do not all agree as to the amount of light they require, for some, like the violet and the arbutus, grow best in moderate light, while others, like the willows, need the strong, full beams of the sun. But nearly all common plants, whatever they are, sicken and die if deprived of sunlight for a long time. This is likewise true in the animal world. During long transportation, animals are sometimes necessarily confined in dark cars, with the result that many deaths occur, even though the car is well aired and ventilated and the food supply good. Light and fresh air put color into pale cheeks, just as light and air transform sickly, yellowish plants into hardy green ones. Plenty of fresh air, light, and pure water are the watchwords against disease.
In addition to the plants and animals which we see, there are many strange unseen ones floating in the atmosphere around us, lying in the dust of corner and closet, growing in the water we drink, and thronging decayed vegetable and animal matter. Everyone knows that mildew and vermin do damage in the home and in the field, but very few understand that, in addition to these visible enemies of man, there are swarms of invisible plants and animals some of which do far more damage, both directly and indirectly, than the seen and familiar enemies. All such very small plants and animals are known as microorganisms
Not all micro÷rganisms are harmful; some are our friends and are as helpful to us as are cultivated plants and domesticated animals. Among the most important of the micro÷rganisms are bacteria, which include among their number both friend and foe. In the household, bacteria are a fruitful source of trouble, but some of them are distinctly friends. The delicate flavor of butter and the sharp but pleasing taste of cheese are produced by bacteria. On the other hand, bacteria are the cause of many of the most dangerous diseases, such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis, influenza, and la grippe.
By careful observation and experimentation it has been shown conclusively that sunlight rapidly kills bacteria, and that it is only in dampness and darkness that bacteria thrive and multiply. Although sunlight is essential to the growth of most plants and animals, it retards and prevents the growth of bacteria. Dirt and dust exposed to the sunlight lose their living bacteria, while in damp cellars and dark corners the bacteria thrive, increasing steadily in number. For this reason our houses should be kept light and airy; blinds should be raised, even if carpets do fade; it is better that carpets and furniture should fade than that disease-producing bacteria should find a permanent abode within our dwellings. Kitchens and pantries in particular should be thoroughly lighted. Bedclothes, rugs, and clothing should be exposed to the sunlight as frequently as possible; there is no better safeguard against bacterial disease than light. In a sick room sunlight is especially valuable, because it not only kills bacteria, but keeps the air dry, and new bacteria cannot get a start in a dry atmosphere.
FIG. - Stems and leaves of oxalis growing toward the light.