The Discovery of Penicillin

Topics: World War II, Bacteria, Antibiotic resistance Pages: 5 (1738 words) Published: October 26, 2010
Today we often take for granted just going to the doctor and getting medicine to fix any illness we may have or pain that we are feeling. There hasn’t always been the privileges that we have today, back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s it wasn’t uncommon for people and children to die from just a minor scratch, pinpricks, scarlet fever, or any minor diseases. Hospitals were full of people with infections spiraling out of control, but there wasn’t anything available for them. Our soldiers fighting for our freedom were destined to perish due to gangrene and amputations from battle wounds, the conditions were unsanitary and the simple dose of an antibiotic was unheard of. It is hard for our civilization to appreciate the medical advancements we have today due to the invention of penicillin, the medical miracle. Penicillin was considered the miracle cure when it was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and it saved several lives including our soldiers but have we abused this medical miracle? However, it is imperative for our civilization to understand how penicillin was invented, the war it saved, and the resistance that it has sir come.

Alexander Fleming was born in Ayshire in the lowlands of southwestern Scotland (Sir Alexander Fleming-Biography). Fleming was obsessed with the body’s fight with infection and he became a professor at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School on September 1, 1928 he taught bacteriology (Saeed). However, Fleming had continued to do research on the bacterium that causes staph infections in the blood stream and was trying to figure out a cure for it (Streble). Fleming was considered to be quite the “packrat”; he refused to throw anything away. One day, Fleming noticed blue fungal spores growing on one of his unwashed petri dishes (Wilson). Fleming almost destroyed the culture until he realized that all the staph bacteria had been eliminated. September1928 marked the discovery of penicillin; he seized the moment and changed medical history forever. Once Fleming saw the effects of this mould called penicillin, he knew this was something new and promising (Saeed). Fleming then became obsessed with penicillin mould, and even used his friends’ moldy old shoes for samples. The “accidental” discovery of penicillin landed him and his colleagues the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1945 (Henry).

The discovery of penicillin’s antibacterial action came at just the right time: the onset of World War II. The U.S. government was very adamant after entering World War II for anything that could save our American soldiers and reduce casualties; this made penicillin a main priority (Henry). This new drug made it possible to save an untold number of lives. The availability of penicillin to treat those wounds made the difference in those survival rates. Due to the fact that penicillin wasn’t being produced by the masses and the production was limited, initial stocks were earmarked for the military only (Henry). This was the very first large-scale human experiment with penicillin and humans, these human trials were conducted in the military field hospitals (Henry). Military personnel were more susceptible to serious infections due to their living conditions. During the war the soldiers lived in close quarters, did not have access to healthy food or clean water, and had very few opportunities to exercise good personal hygiene. Before penicillin was introduced during World War II, soldiers were just as likely to perish from infections as from battle wounds. Many of our soldier’s relatives didn’t look for their loved ones to come home due to the unsanitary conditions and amputations many of them had to endure due to wounded limbs. The introduction of penicillin was a medical breakthrough; many once-fatal infections could be easily cured and the rates of respiratory diseases among soldiers significantly decreased. There was no longer a need for the surgical opening of a wound or...
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