Seven surprising facts that Lauren learned during her research:
1. Penicillin and many other antibiotics are made from common molds and mold products. Nowadays we take these drugs so much for granted, I never stopped to think about where they came from. Medicine from mold seems so unlikely!
2. Before the days of modern medicine, people in parts of Eastern Europe traditionally kept stale, moldy bread on their kitchen counters. When someone had a cut, people cut off the moldy end of the bread and wrapped it upon the cut to prevent infection. Although they didn’t know this, they were harnessing the power of what we would come to call penicillin.
3. Briton Hadden, who founded “Time” Magazine and Time, Inc., with Henry Luce, died at the age of 31 from blood poisoning brought on by a scratch from a pet cat. This story – of someone dying from too young because of an infection – occurred again and again before antibiotics were available. It also occurred in my own family, inspiring me to write “A Fierce Radiance.”
4. The American Nazi group the Bund was more active in America before the war than I ever imagined, holding mass rallies in New York City and running youth camps on Long Island.
5. Before antibiotics, in any war, more troops died from infection than from actual wounds on the battlefield.
6. During the world-wide influenza epidemic of 1918, the number of deaths was so overwhelming that in Philadelphia, for example, “death carts” from the churches and synagogues went through the streets to collect the bodies of parishioners for burials in mass graves. In America today, we’ve essentially forgotten the trauma of the influenza epidemic of 1918, even though it touched almost every family.
7. Antibiotics won’t work forever. The problem of resistance has already become so severe that several strains of bacteria are resistant to even the strongest antibiotics. Scientists are trying to develop new types of antibiotics, that will kill infectious bacteria in new ways, but it’s a tough battle. In a few decades, we could return to the era when an otherwise healthy adult died from a scratch on the knee.