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THE COVID PANDEMIC has made me aware of SIR analyses modeling Susceptibility, Infection, and Recovery; of R0, R-naught describing Covid’s average rate of transmission; and of other medical complexities. Yet I often overlook significant advances in medicine in only the past 150 years. 

Here are tidbits about several of these, gleaned primarily from Ozy’s Presidential Brief, November 14, 2021, together with my usual Internet sleuthing (some of the latter recalling SimanaitisSays items prompted by the pandemic).

Snake Oils. Entire operas have been written about fake elixirs. And even today, misinformation continues to promote snake oils of one sort or another. 

Image from SimanaitisSays..

Sticks and Snakes. Ozy Presidential Brief writes, “Our symbols can give us away. For more than a century, the U.S. medical industry has often unknowingly used two similar but different insignias. The first, with one snake wrapped around a stick, is the Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. But the other one, also widely used, has two snakes coiled around a staff. That’s caduceus — associated, among other things, with thieves in Greek and Roman mythology.

See also “Holy Caduceus!” for a related R&T tale.

Cleaning Up the Surgery. It’s quite amazing that, as recently as 156 years ago, Joseph Lister upset tradition by stressing the importance of sterile surgery. Before this, medicos often went from operation to operation in street clothing without even washing their hands. 

Ozy Presidential Brief notes that Robert Wood Johnson, inspired by Lister, “teamed up with his brothers to start their family firm, Johnson & Johnson, which because the first to mass-produce antiseptic surgical gauze and sutures, as well as first-aid kits.”

A Spoonful of Sugar, er, … Gelatin…. Ozy Presidential Brief also celebrates Col. Eli Lily and his company launched in 1876. They came up with gelatin coating for pills that made it easier to consume bitter-tasting drugs. 

Aspirin History. The History Channel describes the history of “the most common drug in household medicine cabinets,” acetylsalicylic acid aka aspirin.

“In its primitive form,” History notes, “the active ingredient, salicin, was used for centuries in folk medicine, beginning in ancient Greece when Hippocrates used it to relieve pain and fever. Known to doctors since the mid-19th century, it was used sparingly due to its unpleasant taste and tendency to damage the stomach.”.

“In 1897,” History writes , “Bayer employee Felix Hoffmann found a way to create a stable form of the drug that was easier and more pleasant to take. (Some evidence shows that Hoffmann’s work was really done by a Jewish chemist, Arthur Eichengrun, whose contributions were covered up during the Nazi era.)”

History continues, “After obtaining the patent rights [in 1899], Bayer began distributing aspirin in powder form to physicians to give to their patients one gram at a time. The brand name came from ‘a’ for acetyl, ‘spir’ from the spirea plant (a source of salicin) and the suffix ‘in,’ commonly used for medications.”

Bayer and World War I. Bayer’s patent expired during WWI and, as History notes, “the company lost the trademark rights to aspirin in various countries. After the United States entered the war against Germany in April 1917, the Alien Property Custodian, a government agency that administers foreign property, seized Bayer’s U.S. assets.”

“Two years later,” History continues, “the Bayer company name and trademarks for the United States and Canada were auctioned off and purchased by Sterling Products Company, later Sterling Winthrop, for $5.3 million.”

It wasn’t until 1994, History notes, that “Bayer bought Sterling Winthrop’s over-the-counter business, gaining back rights to the Bayer name and logo and allowing the company once again to profit from American sales of its most famous product.”

A long enough time had elapsed that no one ever coined the phrase, “Take two Bayers and call me in the morning.” ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

2 comments on “MEDICAL TIDBITS

  1. Bob DuBois
    December 19, 2021

    For some 23 years, I worked at the Monsanto plant in St. Louis that was one of the major bulk aspirin producers in the country. We sold it to all the major and minor aspirin tablet sellers in the USA. when you buy aspirin from a major name such as Bayer, you are mainly paying for their advertising budget. If you buy the house brand tablets at a much lower price, you are most likely buying the very same aspirin that is in those high-priced major brands. Incidentally, you cannot tabletize aspirin as it is. You need something like starch added so the aspirin is compressible. We sold aspirin as bulk material, or in aspirin/starch combinations, whatever the customer wanted. We also added red or green dyes, if they wanted a colored product.

  2. Jack Albrecht
    December 21, 2021

    Here in Central Europe Bayer’s patent is still intact, so aspirin is very expensive.

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