The 2009 article, “History of the Medical Use of Silver,” by Dr. J. Wesley Alexander, provides a succinct introduction to the topic of medical silver.  Published in SURGICAL INFECTIONS, Volume 10, Number 3, its four pages have been oft cited by subsequent articles about silver in the medical context.  The paper was originally presented in 2005 at the 25th Annual meeting of the Surgical Infection Society.

Dr. Alexander, M.D., Sc.D., is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the University of Cincinnati. He has over 700 publications with a focus on topics involving surgical infection, burns, and transplant surgery.  He has been described as “a true surgeon-scientist” by the University of Cincinnati website.

“History of the Medical Use of Silver” traces silver’s application with medicine beginning in ancient history. The section covering the era from 0 C.E. to 1800 mentions of silver’s various early uses in the middle ages and pioneer days.

The period from 1800 to 1900 is where the medical use of silver becomes more interesting, in part due to parallel advances in germ theory. In particular, the contributions of Dr. Marion Sims and Dr. Carl Siegmund Franz Crede are noted for furthering our understanding of silver’s benefits.

The 20th century rise of penicillin’s impact in silver’s role is noted, also noting that silver continued to be used.  By the end of the 20th Century, Dr. Alexander lists a handful the uses of silver.

“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 … eye conditions … and other infectious conditions.”

As a historical overview, this article approaches the present but does not explore emerging research and applications in detail.  However, the article does include a quick comment about silver’s future medical utility: “Its risk:benefits ratio is advantageous.”

The full article is available at the US National Library of Medicine.


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