Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fleming's non-toxic antiseptic was useless (and was called penicillin)

Toxic - but effective - antiseptic
An extremely non-toxic ,wide-spectrum (for its time)  germ-killer that can be used as a huge-dose, long term, systemic (ie something we safely introduce into the bloodstream), is a very rare indeed.

And highly valuable, even priceless, whenever our body faces massive body-wide infections that can kill us.

By contrast, what Alexander Fleming claimed to offer between the Fall of 1928 and the Fall of 1942, was a slow acting, non-toxic, wide-spectrum antiseptic (externally applied) germ-killer that was in very short supply and very unstable.

Forget, for the moment, most of Fleming's 'claims'.

The main point his listeners would take away was that this was a non-toxic antiseptic and as such, not particularly valuable.

Non-toxic and yet not particularly valuable ??!!

Yes, even fairly toxic systemics can sometimes be useful.

And as for antiseptic use, even very toxic substances can still be totally useful.

This confusion comes about because even doctors are frequently far too loose as to what they actually mean when they say a drug is toxic.

Toxic usually means - when you dig into the subject - it kills  tender cells, in our interiors , and when delivered via the blood supply.

But toxic chemicals poured into body cavities and wounds without access to the internal blood supply (aka antiseptics) can end up doing very little damage in the overall scheme of things.

Even if they kill our body's cells at lower levels of the drug than the level needed to kill bacteria cells, they still can be useful : the wound at first might be a mess of already dead human cells acting as a food source for deadly bacteria.

Later after the bacteria are dead and the dead human cells are flushed away, the toxic antiseptic can be withdrawn before it starts killing new living human cells.

So antiseptics don't really need to be non-toxic, to be effective.

But they do need to be cheap, abundant, have long term stability and non-complicated storage requirements : everything that Fleming's offering (Penicillin) lacked.

Limited visions indeed : comparing penicillin to gramicidin

Something that Gramicidin, its chief rival from 1939 to 1943, did offer in spades. (Gramicidin was highly dangerous if taken internally but quite useful if poured into open wounds.)

But even the act of medically comparing penicillin to gramicidin , as many  medical researchers did in those years, gives us a rare insight into their personal 'war aims'.

They saw the many different sulfa drugs as essential for all forms of infections, internal and external, military and civilian : and so scarce resources must be diverted to their mass production.

But the fact that they only saw penicillin as an antiseptic , meant they saw its use limited to wound-type infections - ie mostly for military personnel and even there, only for trauma infections.

This limited estimation of the worth of penicillin contrasts vividly with penicillin's biggest booster, Henry Dawson.

Quite simply, he said in 1941 that he saw penicillin has having "unlimited possibilities" and that "the government" should mass produce it for all , rather than wait for Big Pharma to get its act together.

If Dawson saw it first and foremost as a systemic (and most deadly infections are systemic), Fleming had spent the last dozen years flatly telling all his face-to-face listeners that penicillin would never ever work as a systemic.

He said this beginning  in 1928 and he clung to this fatally incorrect "belief" until at least 1942 or 1943.

Yes, Alexander Fleming should be honoured as the father of penicillin, but he should also be condemned as the father who also trying his hardest to kill his own child for 15 years....

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