Practical Prepping

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Silver Through the Ages

Herodotus, the Father of History, accounts that no Persian king, including Cirrus, would drink water that was not transported in silver containers, which kept the water fresh for years. This was particularly important in military conflicts, where fresh water from natural sources was not readily available.

The ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and others also were recorded to have used silver in one form or another to preserve food and water. During the war with Napoleon, the armies of Tsar. Alexander used water cask lined with silver to clean drinking water from rivers and streams. This same practice was carried on through World War II.

The application of silver plates to achieve better wound healing was used by the Macedonians, perhaps the first attempt to prevent or treat surgical infections. Hippocrates used silver preparations for the treatment of ulcers, promote wound healing and controlled disease. It is likely that silver nitrate also was used medically because it was mentioned in a pharmacopeia (A book containing an official list of medicinal drugs together with articles on their preparation and use.) published in Rome in 69 B.C.E.

The popularity of medicinal silver especially arose throughout the Middle East from 702 CE through980 CE, where it was widely used and greatly esteemed for blood purification, heart conditions, and controlling bad breath.

Paracelsus (circa 1520 CE) extensively used silver medicinally, and later Caradanus, Pareus, and $ala also used it. Paracelsus used silver internally and also applied silver nitrate as a caustic for the treatment of wounds, a practice that continues today. In 1614, Angelo Sala gave silver nitrate internally as a counter irritant, as a laxative , and for the treatment of brain infections. Silver later came into popularity for the treatment of epilepsy when an epileptic stopped having seizures after he swallowed a large silver coin used to prevent him from biting his tongue.

During the early pioneer days on the North American continent, when there was no refrigeration and water needed to be transported long distances, it was common practice to drop silver coins into the transport vessel to preserve water. This practice also was used to preserve milk and prevent spoilage, without knowledge that it was the prevention of bacterial growth that caused the effect.

By 1800, there was wide acceptance that wine, water, milk, and vinegar stayed pure for longer periods of time when stored in silver vessels. Silver nitrate also was used successfully to treat skin ulcers, compound fractures, and suppurating wounds, well before the time of Lister.

One of the crucial contributions to the medical uses of silver was by Doctor J. Marion Sims m 1852. Sims became engrossed with the problem of vesico-vaginal fistulas, which were created at the time of delivery, especially in slave woman, who often had rickets and deformed pelvises. A fistula is a passage or hole that has formed between two organs in your body or an organ and your skin. A vesico-vaginal fistula is an opening between the vagina and the urinary tract. These young, otherwise healthy women became social outcasts because of their continued involuntary urination, uncleanness, and stench. This was only shortly after Semmelweis was able to decrease the blood poisoning by improved hygiene through hand washing, but before Pasteur showed that bacteria caused disease and well before Lister's successful use of antiseptics to prevent surgical site infections in 1867. Sims went so far as to keep these slave women in a small hospital near his home so he could be more attentive to their care. He tried many times to repair the fistulas surgically using standard sutures, such as silk, but these attempts all failed Convinced that silver had healing properties, he had his silversmith produce fine silver wires that he then used as sutures to close the fistulas This was highly successful, the first success being in a slave woman named Anarcha, who had undergone 12 previous operations using silk for closure. Sims became widely recognized as the first American surgeon to achieve international renown, traveling throughout Europe to demonstrate his successful techniques. He also used silver catheters for urinary diversion until the repairs had healed At one time, Sims declared boldly that the use of silver sutures was one of the major contributions to surgery in the 1800s. Other sutures were introduced that were coated with silver, but the success of these was not well documented.

Another critical contribution was made in the 1880s by Doctor Carl Siegmund Franz Crede, a German obstetrician, who pioneered the use of silver nitrate eye drops to prevent conjunctivitis (pink eye) in newborn infants. He first used a 2% solution, but this was reduced subsequently to a 1% solution because of the irritation the higher concentration caused. (1% = 10,000 PPM) This was a highly effective therapy, reducing the incidence of conjunctivitis from 7.8% to 0.13% in 13years. Because of the success of this method, the employment of silver nitrate eye drops in newborn infants was widely accepted throughout the world, and in numerous countries, this therapy was mandated by law and persisted until after the introduction of effective antibiotics.

B.C. Crede, a surgeon, is credited with being the first to employ colloidal silver for wound antisepsis in1891, after observing Halsted applying silver foil to wounds to treat infections. Topical application of silver salts became a common therapy. Crusius used silver nitrate for the treatment of burn injuries in the 1890s, well before its recent rediscovery. Vonnaegele realized that the antibacterial effects of silver were attributable primarily to the silver ion, and did systematic studies that led to the finding that silver was an effective antimicrobial agent for almost all unicellular organisms (at least 650 species), but frequently not against mold or parasites. Silver also had another use in medicine during the 19th Century, in that Konrad Rontgen discovered in 1895 that X-rays activated silver halide crystals, making it possible to record radiographic images.

Halsted was one of the first American surgeons to advocate the use of silver foil for wound dressings, and silver sutures often were used in surgical incisions to prevent infections. The use of silver for ophthalmologic (eye care) treatment was extended considerably. Roe used a colloidal form of silver in the successful treatment of infected corneal ulcers, blindness, eye lid infections, and dacrocystitis (inflammation of the lacrimal sac causing obstruction of the tube draining tears into the nose).

Colloidal silver also was reported to be effective treatment for childbed fever (a serious, formerly widespread, form of blood poisoning caused by infection contracted during childbirth), tonsillitis, acute epididymitis (a male reproductive issue), and other infectious diseases.

Over time, the well established indications for the effective use of silver were for water purification,wound dressings for the promotion of healing, the prevention and treatment of infection, dental hygiene(the prevention and correction of pyorrhea, gingivitis, and bad breath), eye conditions and other infectious complications.

Historically, silver has been a major therapeutic agent in medicine, especially in infectious disease, including surgical infection.