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Box of five ampoules of Pronotsil, Germany, 1936-1940

Prontosil was the first commercial sulphonamide antibacterial, available from 1935 onwards. For the first time some of the serious problems caused by bacteria, such as blood infections, tonsillitis and puerperal fever, could be cured. At first, there was scepticism surrounding the drug but it was embraced wholeheartedly after some famous success stories. Prontosil started a race to find similar chemicals to tackle other infections. It is believed that these ampoules, which are used to inject the antibiotic, were intended for use in the Middle East during the Second World War. The label on the base of the box reads “Sample for Physicians NOT FOR SALE” and is translated into Arabic.

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Glossary: anti-bacterial

A substance that destroys bacteria or slows their growth or reproduction.

Glossary: ampoule

A sealed glass or plastic capsule containing one dose of a drug in the form of a sterile solution for injection.

Glossary: sulphonamides

Antibacterial drugs used to treat diseases like bronchitis and pneumonia, derived from sulphanilamide

Glossary: sulphanilamide

A form of sulphonamide used in the treatment of various bacterial infections.

Glossary: tonsillitis

Inflammation of the tonsils due to bacterial or viral infection. Tonsillitis causes a sore throat, fever and difficulty in swallowing.

Glossary: puerperal fever

A blood infection suffered by some mothers soon after birth. The main symptom is a fever in the first 24 hours following delivery.