Infection Mortality

The 20th century was a time that brought great change in the world. Things were nothing then like what we take for granted today. During the American civil war more soldiers died from infection than died from bullets. Merely a small cut could cause an infection that would kill you.

Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes took many lives before the discovery of antibiotics. Then in 1928, a bacteriologist named Alexander Fleming, in his haste to be off to vacation left a mess of culture plates in his lab. Upon his return he happened to notice in a Petri dish containing a bacterial culture, there was also a lump of something moldy. He observed that the area immediately around the mold was free of bacteria. This discovery led to in creation of penicillin.

However, Fleming didn’t realize what he had discovered and in 1929 attempted to present it as an antiseptic for cleaning surfaces. It was Australian born Howard Florey and Jewish refugee Ernst Chain that determined the discovery’s usefulness for human kind. Unfortunately it still took nearly a decade before the discovery was put to use.

Penicillin was first prescribed in the later part of the 1930’s, ushering in a new era for medicine. Due to the use of this new antibiotic, human life expectancy jumped eight years between 1944 and 1972. The wonder of this new drug was touted as eradicating infectious disease forever, but the original discoverer, Alexander Fleming, foresaw the future and made this statement;

“The greatest possibility of evil in self-medication is the use of too small doses so that instead of clearing up infection the microbes are educated to resist penicillin and a host of penicillin-fast organisms is bred out which can be passed to ot