The story of the discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin, is amazing. You were probably taught the story at school – the discovery was a total accident. Dr Alexander Fleming, a Bacteriologist at St Mary’s Hospital in London, discovered Penicillin in 1928 whilst investigating a staphylococcus, a common type of bacteria that cause boils and cause disastrous infections in patients with weakened immune systems.
Whilst preparing a culture, a Penicillium mould spore was accidentally introduced to the medium coming through a window or, more likely, floating up a stairwell from the lab below. Dr Fleming was on holiday at the time and on his return noted that a mould called penicillium had contaminated the petri dish and on further examination, he was amazed to find that the mould prevented the normal growth of Staphylococcus.
Dr Fleming famously wrote: “When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionise all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.” And for this incredible work, Dr Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1945. Of course, this story would not be complete without mentioning other physicians like Dr Howard Florey, a Professor of Pathology and Dr Ernest Chin.
An incredible story with an incredible legacy. Antibiotics have been one of the most important developments in modern medicine. It is estimated that Penicillin alone has saved at least 200 million lives. But the effectiveness and accessibility of antibiotics have led to a new, serious threat.
The escalating use of antibiotics in man and animals means the effectiveness of the drugs is now in significant jeopardy. As Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “If antibiotics lose their effectiveness it will spell ‘the end of modern medicine.’” And without these drugs used to fight infections, common medical interventions such as caesarean sections, cancer treatments, knee and hip replacements, would become incredibly risky. So that’s why it is so important for us to use antibiotics carefully as bacteria are finding more ways to become more resistant to the antibiotics. I applaud our Public Health Physicians and Officials for taking such a strong stance against the liberal use of antibiotics. It’s no exaggeration to say a crisis is looming and we must do what we can now to prevent it.
The antibiotic checklist:
- Antibiotics should only be prescribed by qualified health professionals. Misuse of antibiotics is way too common.
- With a few exceptions, antibiotics are for treating bacterial infections. They are ineffective for treating infections caused by viruses.
- For antibiotics to be effective, the full prescribed course must be taken. Not taking the full course only partially treats infections and encourages the development of resistance.