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, United States (USA) (American Colonies) - 1943 - Penicillin first used successfully to treat a patient


Changes Method Of War On Germs; Pales "Glory" Of Sulfa

By Howard W. Blakeslee
NEW YORK, Aug. 2. - (AP) - A new era in medicine, the conquest of germs by interfering with their eating and digestion, is sweeping through the military hospital of America and England.

The sulfa drugs started it, but the realization is coming through a newer and more successful remedy, penicillin.

The difference between the new era and the old is the difference between using a germ poison and a milder cure. Heretofore drugs for germs have poisoned and killed them outright.

The new remedies don't kill the germs as a rule, but weaken them by interfering with the germ's metabolism, leaving the body's natural defenses to kill the bacilli and make the cure.

The sulfas, by saving hundreds of thousands of lives, have demonstrated that this interference works better than outright killing. But the sulfas carry some risks, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fever, somnolence, delirium, kidney troubles and occasional damage to the blood.

The new penicillin has shown not a single reported bad human reaction. It is vastly more potent than the sulfas. It is many hundred times more active than those drugs. These are the words doctors and scientists are using in their written reports.

"Penicillin," writes Iago Galdston, M.D. of the New York Academy of Medicine, "literally pales the glory of sulfa drugs."

The sulfas, he says, are symbols of a new era in chemotherapy. He rates the sulfas and penicillin as foreshadowing the third great step in germ warfare.

The first was Pasteur's demonstration that bacilli cause diseases.

The second was Paul Ehrlish's magic bullets, the arsenic that cured syphilis, and which started chemotherapy.

Penicillin is a chemical manufactured by the common green molds of bread and cheese. To make it, pharmaceutical houses use huge stacks of fat-bellied glass bottles, of about a gallon capacity each.

Each bottle is about half filled with a clean, watery liquid. A bit of the mold is inoculated into this liquid, and the top of the bottle sealed. The bottles, lying on their sides, are then stacked in high tiers, to remain about two weeks.

In that period, a velvety-blue-green-white film, the mold penicillium notatus, forms over the surface of the liquid. There isn't any penicillin in this mold. The precious drug is in the liquid. And there isn't much of it per bottle. That is one reason for laying the bottles on their sides, so as to for a larger surface for the penicillium mold.

After two weeks, the mold is skimmed off, the liquid poured out, and from it is extracted the penicillin. This process is low in yield in the face of the need which already embraces hundreds of thousands of men.

Yet the almost crude process serves to limelight the virtues of penicillin. The drug does not come out absolutely pure,a fact supposed to be a handicap. Yet, the yellow powder that is the final product of the bottles, is surpassing all expectations.

On the scientific side, penicillin interferes with a wider range of germs than do sulfanilamide and its cousins. Penicillin sometime kills the bacilli, probably by interference with their metabolism. In animal experiments, penicillin is neither poisonous nor otherwise harmful in any doses required to enable the animal to destroy its infectious germs. In clinical experience, that is, treatment of human beings, penicillin has cured where sulfas failed.

The reported cases are running high in the hundreds. That is not really very many, and leaves the possibility that bad effects may yet appear. But the uniformity of good results is impressive.

Ten years passed between the discovery of penicillin and its medical use. That is a remarkably short time. The lapse between the making of sulfanilamide, as a red German dye, and its medical use was about 30 years. Penicillin was dragged out of its obscurity early by the new idea. The sufas were the spur. Scientists began hunting for others. About a dozen already are in laboratory use, but penicillin is the best so far found. The ultimate values of the others remain in doubt.

But there is no doubt that there will be many more in this dawning medical era. The diseases yet to be attacked by this idea of mistreating germs far outrange anything the sulfas and penicillin are expected to combat. Notable among them are tuberculosis, leprosy, and nearly all the virus diseases, from influenza to infantile paralysis and the the newly established virus pneumonia.

How far penicillin will go in number of germs it attacks is still unknown. But it certainly won't hit them all. This was shown by when penicillin was used for in the first 10 years after Professor Andrew Fleming, the English scientist, discovered it by accident, when a bit of the green mold prevented the growth of some staphyloccoci he was cultivating in his laboratory.

Thereafter it became a regular thing to put penicillin into germ cultures to curb some of the unwanted virulent strains. This left other germs, which penicillin did not harm, free to grow. The germs of whooping cough were regularly thus produced with the aid of penicillin.

The Bee
Danville, Virginia
August 2, 1943

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