Fleming’s discovery wasn’t immediately put to use. It took about 13 years for scientists to figure out how to make medicine from the penicillin mold.
But that medicine was ready just in time.
In 1944, World War II was raging around the globe. Doctors struggled to help wounded soldiers, and they often gave up if the wounds became infected. Stopping the bacteria from spreading was nearly impossible. Thus, an infection usually meant death.
That year, a factory in New York started producing penicillin by the gallon. By the war’s end, the medicine had saved the lives of more than 100,000 soldiers.
Since then, penicillin has been used to cure tuberculosis, pneumonia, scarlet fever, strep throat, and other diseases—saving the lives of approximately 200 million people.
And we owe it all to the messy habits of Alexander Fleming.