The first antibiotic to reach Hawai‘i was sulfanilamide, in 1937. Its earliest application was in the treatment of gonorrhea, primarily by Board of Health, Queen’s Hospital, and Navy physicians. Four years later, many American soldiers and sailors seriously wounded in the Pearl Harbor attack were reportedly saved by the new drug, in what was described as its “first big wartime test.”
Penicillin arrived in 1943 but was initially restricted to military use. Beginning in July 1943, the new drug was used at Aiea Naval Hospital for the treatment of gonorrhea. A few months later, in October, officials decided to undertake the production of penicillin locally at the HSPA Experiment Station on Ke‘eaumoku Street, and by the end of the year significant quantities were being produced. This wonder drug was first made generally available for civilian use in mid-1944.
The first commercial shipment of streptomycin reached Hawai‘i in November 1946. The following month, physicians at Le‘ahi Hospital began using the drug on tuberculosis patients, sometimes with striking results. A new era in the treatment of infection had begun.
By Robert C. Schmitt