Bushnell Days: Penicillin
Penicillin helped the United States win World War II, and it was researched and developed at Bushnell General Military Hospital. In World War I, infections had killed more soldiers than bullets did. Sulfa drugs, discovered in the 1930s, were the first effective antibiotics, but many infections resisted the treatment. Furthermore, sulfa drugs had many debilitating side effects. The outbreak of World War II increased the urgency to find new ways of fighting infections. The US Army chose Bushnell Hospital to try the effectiveness of penicillin, a relatively new drug developed from mold. They tested it on “hopeless cases”—those whom doctors declared were going to die from their infections. Nearly all the men treated with penicillin lived.
Led by Major Frank B. Queen, the doctors and nurses at Bushnell continued their experiments and trained doctors at other hospitals on the use of penicillin. They kept their results out of print until 1944, presumably so enemy spies wouldn’t discover what they had learned. Penicillin remained difficult to produce in large amounts, so at first the demand outstripped the supply. Researchers at the University of Utah worked to create more of the “wonder drug,” as did scientists in labs across the United States. As the war progressed, enough penicillin became available to make a significant impact on the mortality of soldiers, allowing more men to return to the battlefield or to work on the home front. Locals also benefited as Utah doctors sometimes petitioned that special civilian cases be given treatment out of the limited supply of penicillin. By the end of the war, penicillin was available to more civilians, and the “wonder drug” saved lives around the world after the cease of hostilities.