My previous article was about the basics of antibiotic use and that it is an Art to fight the Antibiotics War against bacteria. How we can use Nuclear bombs, but probably hurt innocent bacteria. That we want snipers that know where and how to kill them. And that we were lucky in 1928: the first antibiotic literally flew into our lives to save us from these tiny terrorists, his name: Cillin, Penicillin.
In this second article about Antibiotic Resistance we will focus on the actual Battle.
When did this Battle start, I hear you asking? You might think it started close to 1928. That we started curing people almost immediately, right? Well, no. Humanity wouldn’t be humanity if we didn’t wait for 15 years to introduce Penicillin. Three years after the first bacteria became resistant to it. Already 0-1 behind.
Researchers from Oxford were working hard to make a working, safe and producible medicine of Penicillin, but it wasn’t easy. After years of research, they eventually had to reach out to the corn farmers from USA to help them bottle the precious mold juice that was the Antibiotic. Around 1941 the production started on a small scale. Like the BBC said in 1942: “Good science is not often quick in getting results.”
Mankind finally kicked back with Penicillin during a genuine real-life battle. The year was 1943, it was World War II. You probably heard about it, it was a pretty big war. What you probably did not hear before is that during the War soldiers could die from a simple splinter. While fighting a World War, we were still losing the Small Wars inside our body.
Fake news? Who cares!
It was probably thanks to some fake news and proper propaganda Penicillin came to the allied forces in 1944. And it involved Churchill. You know, 69 years old, overweight, heavy smoker, avid drinker. Well, he got a pneumonia in December 1943 and got pretty sick. Aaah. But he got saved. Yeah. So far, this is true. But then came the propaganda for Penicillin in the newspapers, here we go:
- When Churchill was a boy (true, he once was a boy),
- a man had saved him from drowning (not true)
- Churchill’s father was so grateful that he paid for the hero’s son to attend medical school (also not true, never met him in his life).
- That son, Alexander Fleming, discovered Penicillin that saved Churchill’s life (also, sorry, not true, he didn’t even get Penicillin).
- And Churchill lived happily ever after (Well, he died in 1965, so not true).
And even though Churchill may not really have been helped by Penicillin, the propaganda helped the industry to get a move on things. In March 1944, 18 months after the BBC had reminded its listeners that good science goes slow, a factory began pouring out penicillin.
Sex on the beach (well, probably after getting of the beach)
If you realize that in WW I 50,000 soldiers died from infectious diseases versus 1,265 during WW II where twice as many people fought, you understand why Penicillin was called a Wonder Drug. On June 6, 1944, allied soldiers carried that Penicillin with them onto the beaches of Normandy, benefitting 100,000 or so soldiers from that day.
And wow, that was a good call. After getting of the beach, the soldiers had a little bit too much trauma-relief-sex at the time. They got infected with Syphilis and Gonorrhea and yes, these could be cured by Penicillin. There were actual discussions going on where to introduce the antibiotic first, on the battlefield or in the bordello.
German soldiers probably experienced similar levels of sexual transmitted infections, but they had no remedy. Some theories go that the resulting advantage in troop strength may have tipped the balance of the war in favor of Allied forces during key engagements late in the war. Yeah, I know, but I did say it was a theory…
Introducing the beta lactam family
After the war ended, when everyone that was not dead or heavily traumatized returned to their homes, scientists were able to proof that the medicine was safe and working. Not all bacteria could be killed by the Penicillin, so they started their research on broadening the spectrum by adding stuff on Penicillin making it stronger and able to kill other bacteria as well. Think of The Incredibles meets Fantastic Four. A whole family of Penicillin cored antibiotics emerged called: beta-lactam antibiotics. A Super Hero family that changed our lives for years.
A family however, that is also under severe threat by a Super Intelligent Army that chances the Rules of the War against Terrorist Bacteria: Antibiotic Resistance.
Next week, in the last episode of the Antibiotic Resistance crisis, Part 3: Ugly fights, ugly truths.