Although Louis Pasteur began exploring the role of bacteria and fermentation in spoiling wine during the late 1850s, much of his most important work initiating the germ theory of disease occurred between 1860 and 1865. A few years later, in 1867, the Scottish surgeon Joseph Lister , who apparently had never heard of Semmelweis, elaborated the theory and practice of antiseptic surgery, which included washing the hands with carbolic acid to prevent infection. And in 1876, the German physician Robert Koch successfully linked a germ, Bacillus anthracis, to a specific infectious disease, anthrax.
The Grenfell Tower fire disaster has provoked comparisons with the partial collapse of the Ronan Point tower block in Newham in 1968, when four people died following a gas explosion. Many years later, when I was a trainee GP in the area, I occasionally visited patients in adjacent – identical – tower blocks on the Freemasons estate (all were subsequently demolished). Though the inquiry into the disaster revealed defects in design and construction, my recollection of the estate is of fine, spacious flats with spectacular views across the now fashionable Docklands landscape.