Hugh Pennington

Hugh Pennington’s Covid-19: The Post-Genomic Pandemic is due in the autumn.

From The Blog
11 September 2023

There is nothing romantic about Alzheimer’s disease, a condition as different as could be from the spes phthisica, the heightened creativity and sensitivity said to be caused by tuberculosis. The only similarities are that in the days when the spes was being celebrated by La Traviata and La Bohème, tuberculosis was as common – and incurable – as Alzheimer’s is today. It was no surprise, then, that massive media interest was generated earlier this year when the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced that its monoclonal antibody donanemab slowed cognitive decline by 35 per cent in some Alzheimer’s sufferers.

From The Blog
13 December 2022

Ronald Hare, a bacteriologist at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London, worked on Group A Streptococci in the 1930s, a time when they regularly killed women who had just given birth and developed puerperal fever. He collaborated with Lancefield to prove that GAS was the killer. On 16 January 1936 he pricked himself with a sliver of glass contaminated with a GAS. After a day or two his survival was in doubt. His boss, Leonard Colebrook, had started to evaluate Prontosil, a red dye made by I.G. Farben that prevented the death of mice infected with GAS. He gave it to Hare by IV infusion and by mouth. It turned him bright pink. He was visited in hospital by Alexander Fleming, a former colleague. Fleming said to Hare’s wife: ‘Hae ye said your prayers?’ But Hare made a full recovery.

From The Blog
15 June 2022

Werner Zoege von Manteuffel has had a hard time from history. He was the first to publish a paper describing the benefits of wearing rubber gloves during surgery, on 22 May 1897 in the Centralblatt für Chirurgie, then the most influential journal of its kind, and using lively language (‘the “boiled Hand” gives absolute security!’), but medical historians today give the credit to William S. Halstead of Johns Hopkins Hospital on the basis of an anecdote, told many years after the event, that he had introduced them to protect the hands of his girlfriend, the theatre sister, from dermatitis caused by exposure to corrosive disinfectant.


Hugh Pennington, 9 June 2022

Thename is misleading. The commonest natural hosts of monkeypox are the small rodents that live in rainforests in West and Central Africa. But it can infect a very wide range of animal species, including humans. Unlike bat coronaviruses it doesn’t have to mutate to move from one species to another. When smallpox was common, monkeypox cases went unrecognised, because the two diseases...

Edmund Gordon mentions the proposal made by the conservation group Buglife that insect-friendly corridors be set up across the UK to prevent an insect apocalypse (LRB, 12 May). The most successful precedent for this was the trenches on the Western Front in the First World War. The insect was the louse, which spread trench fever. It saved many lives because the disease made soldiers (including A.A....

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