Bacteria, Education

Penicillin: the Accident that Saved Many Lives

Author Fisayo Olusegun , 28-Sep-2020

Table of contents
Fleming in his Lab - Photo. Date: 1881 - 1955

Alexander Fleming in his laboratory, 1881 – 1955

There have been many happy accidents in science. Several of these were of great benefit to medicine.

For example, in 1895, a German physicist working with a cathode ray tube happened to place his hand in front of the rays and found that he could see his bones in the image projected onto the screen. Soon after that, the first X-ray images were produced.

There have been other instances where serendipity played a role in unearthing effective disease treatments.

The Find Of The 20th Century

The most famous of these happy accidents in chemistry and biology is the discovery of Penicillin as an antibiotic remedy.

Alexander Fleming, a Scottish bacteriologist, worked in the inoculations department at St Mary’s Hospital in the early 1900s. In September 1928, Fleming had left a pile of bacteria cultures in his laboratory before going on holiday with his family. The cultures he was studying were known to cause septic infections. By accident, he left one of the Petri dishes uncovered.

Fleming returned to find that a bluish-green mold, similar to the mold found on bread, had contaminated the specimen. The area around the mold in the Petri dish was clear of bacteria. Fleming observed that the mold seemed to have killed the germs. This mold was identified as a strain of Penicillium. He saw this as a potential treatment for bacterial infections.

Penicillin culture,1929Penicillin culture, 1929

Importance Of Shared Science

Fleming further identified that it wasn’t just the mold that killed the bacteria but the ‘juice’ the mold seemed to produce. He also discovered that the ‘mold juice‘ was effective against pathogens that are responsible for diseases like MeningitisDiphtheria, and Gonorrhea.

Fleming’s effort would bear no further fruits. He could not produce and purify the ‘mold juice’ in substantial quantities. However, he named the substance Penicillin and published his findings in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in 1929. This crucial step allowed others to build on his work.

A decade later, Fleming’s findings piqued the interest of two Oxford scientists: Howard Florey and Ernst Chain. Eventually, they found a way to mass-produce the antibiotic in a form that could kill harmful bacteria without having any toxic effects on the human body.

Vintage vials of Penicillin GVintage vials of Penicillin G

Penicillin’s Wartime Value

During World War I, Alexander Fleming was stationed in France and served as a captain in the Army Medical Corps. He observed that soldiers’ deaths were not always from wounds inflicted in battle but rather from bacterial infections.

The principal treatment of such infections consisted of the administration of antiseptics. Fleming noted that these often did more harm than good. He wrote about this. However, his findings were not taken seriously at the time.

During World War I, the death rate from bacterial pneumonia was 18%. In WWII, thanks to Penicillin, the death rate from the same condition fell to less than 1%. This enabled many soldiers to return home in good health.

An Exceptional Discovery

The mass production of Penicillins is credited with saving the lives of many thousands of soldiers during World War II.

Antibiotics of the Penicillin family, known as Penicillins, have been found to cure many bacterial infections, from mild, to moderate upper respiratory tract infections to skin ulcers and urinary tract infections.

In 1944, Alexander Fleming was knighted by King George VI. In 1945, he received a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain.

The praise was well deserved, as infections that were once life-threatening are now only mild inconveniences because of Penicillin’s versatility and efficacy. Penicillin as a drug richly deserves its place as one of the most important anti-infective drugs of all time.

Interestingly, Fleming was not the first to observe the antibacterial effect of Penicillium. Between 1868 and 1873, a famous surgeon named Theodor Billroth discovered that it inhibited bacterial growth – but nothing was done about it then. He died when Fleming was 13 years old.

Modern-Day Uses of Penicillin

Today, penicillins are used in various ways to prevent illness and promote good health. For example, penicillin is often prescribed by doctors as a way to treat bacterial infections and alleviate symptoms like fever and swelling.

More specifically, penicillin is a drug used to treat various bacterial infections. It is effective against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. Bacterial infections that can be treated with penicillins include:

  • ear infections
  • skin infections
  • urinary tract infections
  • STDs
  • respiratory infections
  • meningitis

Penicillins are one of modern medicine’s most well-known and widely used antibiotic drugs. While penicillin was originally developed as a treatment for bacterial infections, there are now several other ways that penicillin can be used to prevent illness and promote overall health.

It can be taken as a preventive measure to ward off pathogens that might cause serious infections or other health problems. Penicillin is particularly effective at preventing infections related to medical procedures such as surgeries or transplants.

Overall, penicillins remain one of the most versatile and effective drugs in modern medicine, thanks to their many beneficial effects on human health. Unfortunately, penicillin can also provoke a severe allergic reaction in some people.

What is a Penicillin Allergy?

These reactions are known as penicillin allergies and can range in severity from mild to potentially life-threatening. Some responses to this medication can be a medical emergency. This is why it is so common for your doctor or pharmacist to verify any allergy that you may have to any medications or drugs. Your doctor will also record any reported reactions you may have as long as it is reported in case you can’t remember specifically what drug caused the allergic reaction. Some symptoms are similar to those you may see with any other type of allergy.

Symptoms of a Penicillin Reaction

This type of allergy has symptoms such as skin rash, itching, hives, swelling, and even anaphylactic shock.

Causes and Impacting Factors of Allergic Reactions

The cause of penicillin allergies is not yet fully understood, but it is thought that there is a genetic component that predisposes certain individuals to develop allergic reactions to penicillin. However, with careful monitoring and treatment by a medical professional, penicillin allergies can be successfully managed.

Several different factors can impact penicillin allergies, including the dose and route of administration of penicillin, as well as the overall health of the person taking it. Furthermore, treatments for penicillin allergies may include alternatives to penicillin or medications to help manage the symptoms associated with penicillin allergies.

Overall, while penicillin is an incredibly useful medication in many situations, it is important to be aware of any potential penicillin allergies to optimize your treatment options. Another method of maximizing treatment options and providing effective patient care is by having all the information needed to treat an illness; that’s why we created GIDEON.

The GIDEON Difference

GIDEON is one of the most well-known and comprehensive global databases for infectious diseases. Data is refreshed daily, and the GIDEON API allows medical professionals and researchers access to a continuous stream of data. Whether your research involves quantifying data, learning about specific microbes, or testing out differential diagnosis tools– GIDEON has you covered with a program that has met standards for accessibility excellence.

You can also review our eBooks on AlkhurmaBotulismCryptococcus, and more. Or check out our global status updates on countries like AlgeriaCanadaIceland, and more!

Fisayo Olusegun

Author & Freelance Writer. I am an Amazon-published author, a husband, and a father to a lovely daughter. My personal credo: Be full of light, inspire, provoke thought, and embody truth. Words are an invaluable way to achieve goals.

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