Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Hypodermic Syringe: The Shot Felt 'Round the World


Just in time for the outbreak of the Civil War, Scottish physician Alexander Wood invents the hypodermic syringe to facilitate drug administration. Dr. Wood first tests his hollow needle syringe by injecting morphine into a patient. He presents the positive results in an 1855 paper entitled “A New Method for Treating Neuralgia by the Direct Application of Opiates to Painful Points,” published in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal.

Dr. Wood establishes that his syringe has many medical applications, but, initially, it is used mainly for pain management during the carnage of the Civil War. In its experimental phase, the needle is both therapeutic and destructive.

Dr. Wood’s wife is the first recorded injection fatality when she accidentally injects herself with a morphine overdose, and nearly 400,000 returning Civil War veterans develop an addiction to morphine as a result of field hospital injections. The condition is commonly called “Soldier’s Disease.”

In 1954, Becton Dickinson & Company improves upon Dr. Wood’s original design.  The firm develops a disposable glass syringe and needle to administer the Salk polio vaccine to more than one million American children.


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