Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Foolery #5: 3 centuries of ginger, antibiotics & MRSA

These are some of the contents of a medicine chest, circa 1820, housed at the British Columbia Medical Association Medical Museum that I learned about on Wednesday thanks to Morbid Anatomy. If I ever make it to New York in my lifetime, I will visit the Morbid Anatomy Library because a project with a mission to 'survey the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture' sounds like a kindred spirit to me. I can't watch MedlinePlus surgery videos without getting queasy but could study still life artistic depictions of disfiguring diseases, dissections & death and never be bored.

Speaking of queasy, I'm not sure how the ginger was prepared in the 19th century for the medicine chest but a 21st century preparation of it in lollipops (Preggie Pops, which have now evolved to drops) helped me function well enough that I never had morning sickness at work. Laudanum is ethanol with opium (yum!), and the other medicine chest contents are
Goulard's extract [a solution of lead acetate and lead oxide], paregoric elixir [a camphorated tincture of opium], spirits of nitre, oppodeldoc [a mixture of soap in alcohol, to which camphor and sometimes a number of herbal essences, most notably wormwood, were added] and ether.
100 years after this medicine chest there were numerous innovations in the field of medicine such as the discovery of insulin, vitamins and the (re-discovery of) penicillin. Check out the accomplishments of the Nobel Laureates of that era in addition to the (re)discoveries details, then note the following from the Antiseptics page with a header of How Germs Get Used to Antiseptics, 1921
VARY YOUR ANTISEPTICS; otherwise the disease germs will get used to them. The distinguished French physician and bacteriologist, Charles Richet, has recently laid before the French Academy of Sciences a note on researches made by him, together with Henry Cardot, on acquired characteristics and heredity in microbes. He experimented, among other things, on the influence of antiseptics, to determine especially whether bacteria may acquire immunity to toxic substances in the same manner that the higher animals do.
It's 2008, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, or mer-sah... one of a handful of acronyms where you don't say each individual letter out loud) is a real threat due to exactly what Dr. Richet was warning the medical community about regarding antibiotic resistance almost a century ago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are over 12 million doctor visits for skin infections by American patients annually and half of them turn out to be MRSA. Please know the symptoms to watch for & check out the National MRSA Education Initiative for more information.

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