Silly Question About George Orwell

OK, I know George Orwell died of TB. Looking it up it was in 1950.

I\’ve also been aware that although penicillin had been discovered in the late 20s (? That right?) it wasn\’t in anything like regular supply until after WWII. Looking around I see that he first antibiotic for TB treatment was Streptomycin

The first randomized controlled trial to be completed and, therefore, the first to be published, it was run by England\’s Medical Research Council and pitted streptomycin and bed rest against bed rest alone, which was then the standard TB therapy. It accrued its first patients in January 1947.

So Orwell was alive at around the time that the first effective treatment became available… least, available to some.

So, does anyone know whether he was treated with it? Or was it just one of these things, he died while the treatment was still in testing, not in general use: a little like if Freddie Mercury had kept going another year or two he would probably still be with us?

Not hugely important, I know, just be interesting to find out.

12 thoughts on “Silly Question About George Orwell”

  1. Dunno. Do you know the story of the poor sod that penicillin was tried on? His condition improved enormously but they were running out of penicillin so they desperately recovered it from his urine and kept recycling it in dwindling amounts until eventually the bacteria won and he relapsed and died.

  2. PS manufacture of penicillin was developed at Oxford during the war and handed gratis to the Yanks, like quite a lot of other science and technology at the time. People forget how recent American domination of those games is.

  3. dearie me
    true but what deal was made behind the scenes to get the penicillin after manufacture which still needed development work on mass production??
    freebies??….reduced price??…

  4. It says here:
    “After about 3 weeks I got a severe sore throat, which did not go away & was not affected by sucking penicillin lozenges.”

    More details at that page.

  5. The story of the development of penicillin is told in The Mould in Dr Florey’s Coat by Eric Lax. Fleming discovered its potential in 1928, but was unable to isolate it from the growing medium. Florey, Chain and Heatley working at Oxford from the mid 30s were able to do so, but not until 1940/41. The US was brought in at an early stage because Britain did not have the facilities to ramp up production. Even getting the quantities needed for the policeman described in dearieme’s story was a struggle.

  6. Dearieme, surely you recall that in 1941 the UK and USA were allies in some sort of endeavor? The UK also provided the USA with prototypes of the cavity magnetron, and for the same reason as with penicillin: the USA had the industrial capacity needed for mass production.

  7. Indeed, ZT, and even before ’41 we gave them all the early work on the Atom Bomb, in return for the promise that we’d be cut in on the final product. Congress reneged on the agreement.

  8. even before ‘41 we gave them all the early work on the Atom Bomb, in return for the promise that we’d be cut in on the final product. Congress reneged on the agreement.

    While they, on the other hand, judiciously kept out of the war until they were themselves attacked.

  9. I don’t remember the details, but apparently there was an antiboitic that would have saved Orwell, and DavidAstor kindly paid for it to be brought over from the US. But they weren’t aware of the quanity, and they didn’t give him enough to save him.

    That’s what the bios say, anyway.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    The first clinical trials of penicillin worked really well, but they did not have enough and it ran out. I believe the first person to be treated was a policeman who, of all things, scratched his face with rose – which got infected. The infection had eaten away most of one side of his face when they put him on it, and it was clearing up nicely, but they simply ran out and he died.

    As for George Orwell I heard, and I have no idea if it is true or not, that some strings were pulled to put him on the first trials of drugs for TB, but they too ran out and he too died.

    No one knew how effective they were going to be after all.

  11. I read the Bernard Crick biography quite a while ago, and can’t put my hand on it now: from memory Orwell certainly did have some Streptomycin – I can’t remember whether the problem was that there wasn’t enough drug, or his disease was too far advanced, or he developed resistance (TB usually needs to be treated with three drugs to prevent resistance). And sometimes the treatment doesn’t work anyway – people still die of TB even with full modern treatment.

    Tim adds: Read Ian Bennett’s link above. Orwell was allergic to the Streptomycin. Truly something of a bugger.

  12. Dearieme: ‘Cut in on the final product’? There were three bombs. One was used in a test, the other two were used to end the war. Surely that was a satisfactory result for the UK? The US shared nuclear technology. You don’t think the UK nuclear forces (Polaris, etc.) were independently developed, do you?
    Cabalamat: What, the US should have declared war on Germany in 1939? The US didn’t have any treaties with Poland. The US didn’t have much of an army then, either. It was several years before the US could effectively intervene directly in the European war. In the meantime, the US provided what aid was physically and politically possible. Isolationist sentiment in the US was deep and widespread. Shortsighted? Sure, but not that different from sentiment in the UK. It just lasted a bit longer.

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