33¢ Antibiotics Save Lives
Celebrate the Century – 1940s
Issue Date: February 18, 1999
City: Dobbins AFB, GA
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed, engraved
The antibiotic era began in 1928, when Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin at St. Mary’s Hospital in England. Initial attempts to treat human infections with the antibiotic were unsuccessful because the substance was unstable and not very strong. After further experimentation at Oxford University, the drug was used with dramatic results in treating serious infections.
The start of World War II interfered with the large-scale manufacture of penicillin in England. As a result, methods for its mass production, purification, and stabilization were moved to the United States.
Extensive research on other antibiotics was still taking place in England. At St. Mary’s, Fleming and his team were producing tetanus toxoid for immunizing the troops. In addition, the lab was also producing vaccines against typhoid, cholera, diphtheria, whooping cough, and influenza.
In the 1930s, as many as 85 percent of people infected with pneumonia died. By the 1960s, that number had dropped to five percent. As a result of the development of various antibiotics in the 1940s, the chance of survival has drastically increased for those who suffer from spinal meningitis, typhoid fever, rheumatic fever, and various other diseases.