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Let us review the history of antibiotic resistance by going back to the discovery of the first antibiotic: penicillin.

It was in 1928 that Fleming made the profound observation that a mould that had grown on an agar plate inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus.

 But it was not until 1940, stimulated by the devastation of infected war wounds, that Florey and Chain were able to purify enough of the inhibitory substance to treat the first patient. 

Let me share this case history with you. He was a 43-year-old Oxford policeman who had nicked the corner of his mouth shaving. Facial and orbital cellulitis rapidly ensured, followed by staphylococcal septicaemia and osteomyelitis.

 The patient was emaciated, moribund and had a high fever when the first injection of their scant supply of penicillin was given. After 24 hours the patient had markedly improved and was afebrile. On the fifth day they ran out of penicillin.

 The fever returned, the patientís condition rapidly deteriorated and he died. Autopsy showed the typical picture of staphylococcal pyaemia.

There are three observations to be drawn from this story, as relevant today as they were then:

First, the devastating power of infection, which can strike healthy people down without warning.

 Second the miracle of antibiotics, which can bring people back from deathís door.

 And finally, the horror and the impotence that comes from running out of antibiotics; a scenario that may well face us in the near future.