The germ theory of disease is the currently accepted scientific theory for many diseases. It states that microorganisms known as pathogens or "germs" can lead to disease. These small organisms, too small to see without magnification, invade humans, other animals, and other living hosts. Their growth and reproduction within their hosts can cause disease. "Germ" may refer to not just a bacterium but to any type of microorganism or even non-living pathogens that can cause disease, such as protists, fungi, viruses, prions, or viroids. Diseases caused by pathogens are called infectious diseases. Even when a pathogen is the principal cause of a disease, environmental and hereditary factors often influence the severity of the disease, and whether a potential host individual becomes infected when exposed to the pathogen.
Basic forms of germ theory were proposed in the late Middle Ages by physicians including Ibn Sina in 1025, Ibn Khatima and Ibn al-Khatib in the 14th century,Girolamo Fracastoro in 1546, and expanded upon by Marcus von Plenciz in 1762. However, such views were held in disdain in Europe, where Galen's miasma theory remained dominant among scientists and doctors. By the early nineteenth century, smallpox vaccination was commonplace in Europe, though doctors were unaware of how it worked or how to extend the principle to other diseases. Similar treatments had been prevalent in India from just before AD 1000.A transitional period began in the late 1850s with the work of Louis Pasteur. This work was later extended by Robert Koch in the 1880s. By the end of that decade, the miasma theory was struggling to compete with the germ theory of disease. Viruses were initially discovered in the 1890s. Eventually, a "golden era" of bacteriology ensued, during which the germ theory quickly led to the identification of the actual organisms that cause many diseases