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Specimen bottle for blood for a test for syphilis, England, 1930-1950

This glass bottle was used to take a blood sample and test for syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection. August von Wassermann (1866-1925), a German physician and bacteriologist, developed this diagnostic blood test in 1906. Shortly afterwards Paul Ehrlich and his team developed a cure for syphilis known as Salvarsan, the so-called ‘magic bullet’. This required, however, a long period of treatment and was later replaced by the use of antibiotics such as penicillin.

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    Glossary: penicillin

    The first antibiotic drug to treat infections which is made from the mould penicillium. Its discovery is attributed to Alexander Fleming in 1928.

    Glossary: syphilis

    A sexually transmitted infection resulting in the formation of lesions throughout the body.

    Glossary: sexually transmitted infection

    Any disease transmitted by sexual intercourse. STIs include HIV/AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhoea, some chlamydia infections and genital herpes.

    Glossary: test tube

    Hollow cylinders of thin glass with one end closed. Test tubes are used for chemical and biological experiments and analysis.

    Glossary: antibiotic

    A substance that is used to treat infections.