By Gerald W. Deas, M.D.
After three days of elevated temperature, muscle pain and a sore throat, Ms. T visited my office and with a self-diagnosis, immediately asked for a shot of penicillin. I advised her that penicillin was not a cure-all drug and on many occasions has been misused. In fact, many sore throats are viral in origin rather than bacterial and usually will not respond to a drug like penicillin.
Furthermore, I explained that penicillin is not a harmless drug. Many allergic reactions and even deaths have resulted from its overambitious use. I have even heard of nurses taking penicillin home from the hospital and giving it to a loved one, which has resulted in death from an allergic reaction. Be careful, nurses!
Upon examination, I found the patient’s throat to reveal large white patches with very angry red tonsils. The cause of the sore throat appeared to be a bacterial infection. A throat culture was taken and since there was no history of penicillin allergy. The appropriate penicillin was prescribed. A generic prescription is just as effective and much cheaper than a brand name.
In three days, Ms. T felt much improved and verbally hung a halo around the head of the antibiotic penicillin. I told her that it was an old drug and an excellent one. Further, I related to her that if it wasn’t for some of the scientifically trained sisters, we may never have had the opportunity to cure a sore throat so fast.
I personally had been unaware of the part that women played in the perfection and production of penicillin until I read a book titled “Mothers Of Invention,” by Etlhlie Ann Vare and Greg Ptacek (William Morrow, $8.95 paperback). They related that it was Gladys Hobby, a microbiologist at Columbia University, who helped to purify the first injectable penicillin. She also developed the antibiotic terramycin, another drug extensively used in medicine. The development and production of a newer penicillin was accomplished by Dr. Dorothy I. Fennel and Dr. Elizabeth McCoy.
Both of these women are credited with the mass production of penicillin. It was margaret Hutchinson, a chemical engineer, who perfected the equipment used to mass-produce and purify penicillin.
Finally, it was Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, a Nobel Prize winner, who determined that the molecular structure of penicillin, making it possible to produce it synthetically. it was she who also determined the molecular structure of vitamin B12, which has been used ti treat anemia and other neurological disorders.