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A healing agent: The discovery of penicillin

In 1928, Alexander Fleming noted that mold belonging to the genus  Penicillium  inhibited the growth of bacteria. Fleming called this unknown antibacterial substance penicillin. Ten years later, a group at Oxford University began to investigate penicillin in laboratory mice. Penicillin was hailed as a miracle drug and saved countless lives in World War II.

Fast facts on penicillin

  • Penicillins were the first antibiotic that doctors used.
  • There are several antibiotics in the penicillin class.
  • Experts credit Alexander Fleming with discovering penicillins.
  • Penicillin works by interfering with bacteria cell walls.
  • Less than 1 percent of people are dangerously allergic to penicillin.

The most commmon side effects of taking penicillins include:

Less common side effects include:

  • shortness of breath or irregular breathing
  • joint pain
  • sudden lightheadedness and fainting
  • puffiness and redness of the face
  • scaly, red skin
  • vaginal itching and discharge, due to either a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis
  • sore mouth and tongue, sometimes with white patches
  • abdominal cramps, spasms, tenderness, or pain

Rare side effects include:

  • anxiety, fear, or confusion
  • a sense of impending doom
  • hallucinations
  • yellowing of the eyes and skin
  • sore throat
  • unusual bleeding
  • diarrhea and reduced urination
  • convulsions


Although the use of penicillins is widespread, some issues or contraindications can occur, as with any drug:

  • Breast-feeding: People who are breast-feeding may pass small amounts of penicillin to the child. This can result in the child experiencing allergic reactions, diarrhea, fungal infections, and skin rash.
  • Interactions: Some other drugs can interact with penicillins. Checking with a doctor before taking multiple medications is vital.
  • Bleeding problems: Some penicillins, such as carbenicillin, piperacillin, and ticarcillin, can make pre-existing bleeding problems worse.
  • Oral contraceptives: Penicillins can interfere with birth control pills, increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancy.
  • Cystic fibrosis: People with cystic fibrosis are more prone to fever and skin rashes when taking piperacillin.
  • Kidney disease: Individuals with kidney disease have an increased risk of side effects.
  • Methotrexate: Methotrexate disrupts cell growth and can treat several conditions, including leukemia and some autoimmune diseases. Penicillins prevent the body from disposing of this drug, potentially leading to severe complications.
  • Phenylketonuria: Some stronger, chewable amoxicillin tablets contain high levels of aspartame that the body converts to phenylalanine. This is dangerous for anyone with phenylketonuria.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Patients with a history of stomach ulcers or other intestinal diseases might be more likely to develop colitis when taking penicillins

source: medical news today

Content created and supplied by: Gannah (via Opera News )

Alexander Fleming Fleming Oxford University Penicillium World War II.


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