Far fewer people die from infections now than fifty years ago. One of the main reasons is an amazing discovery.
Old Mould. Antibiotics are used as a medicine to fight bacteria, you might have taken them if you’ve had an infection. Today we use antibiotics that are manufactured in labs, but they were originally discovered as natural substances. Penicillin was the first to be discovered, quite by accident.
Alexander Fleming was a doctor with a messy lab. He’d been growing bacteria in Petri dishes and left a pile of them waiting to be cleaned.
Fleming noticed that one of them had mould growing on it that seemed to have killed the bacteria in the dish, and decided to examine it more closely. The mould was penicillium and Fleming managed to isolate the bacteria-killing chemicals it produced, which are now known as penicillins.
Fleming made his discovery in the I 920s but no one took much notice of it until the Second World War, when chemists Howard Florey and Ernst Chain carried on his work and came up with a purified form of penicillin.
The medicine began to be mass produced for the first time, and went on to save millions of lives. Fleming, Florey and Chain shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945. Today, penicillin-based antibiotics are still the safest and most commonly prescribed.
Think back to the last time you felt really ill. Was it an infection of some kind? Did you have to take antibiotics? Did you see a doctor?
What medicines (if any) did you have to take?
Alexander Fleming had noticed that bacteria developed resistance to antibiotics if the medicine wasn’t taken for long enough or in too low a dose. Just four years after drug companies began mass producing penicillin, microbes began appearing that could resist it.