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Roux-type hypodermic syringe, London, England, 1890-1910

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This Roux-type syringe was used to give diphtheria antitoxin injections under the skin. Diphtheria can be dangerous as the bacteria that cause the disease release toxins into the body, triggering heart failure if not treated with an antitoxin. The antitoxin did not kill the bacteria, but significantly reduced its impact. It was the most effective way to deal with the disease prior to the development of a vaccine in 1913. Once a common and often fatal disease of childhood, vaccination programmes have now made the disease rare in the United Kingdom. Manufactured by Oppenheimer, Son & Co Ltd, the hypodermic syringe is made from glass and metal and comes with its own case and rubber attachments.

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    Glossary: vaccination

    The introduction of vaccine into the body for the purpose of inducing immunity. Coined originally to apply to the injection of smallpox vaccine, the term has come to mean any immunising procedure in which vaccine is injected.

    Glossary: hypodermic syringe

    A syringe is a simple piston pump consisting of a plunger that fits tightly in a tube. The plunger can be pulled and pushed along inside a cylindrical tube (the barrel), allowing the syringe to take in and expel a liquid or gas through an orifice at the open end of the tube. In modern medicine, a syringe is often fitted with a hypodermic needle to create a hypodermic syringe which is most commonly used for injecting materials directly into the bloodstream.

    Glossary: diphtheria

    An acute highly contagious infection, generally affecting the throat but occasionally other mucous membranes and the skin. Diphtheria has been largely eradicated due to world-wide vaccination efforts.

    Glossary: antitoxin

    An antibody, a type of protein, which is produced to counter-act any bacterial toxins present in the body. It combines with toxins (antigens) in the blood and neutralises them.