Soon after its introduction in 1910, intravenous arsphenamine treatment for syphilis was found to be complicated by jaundice. The underlying cause, unsterile syringes and needles, was eventually recognised in the early 1940s, mainly through the efforts of British Army investigators. The infection most often transmitted was probably hepatitis B virus (HBV), but the high mortality in a few of the outbreaks of arsphenamine jaundice suggests that variants of HBV, or other hepatitis viruses, were sometimes involved. Fifty years later, at a time when there are estimated to be over three hundred million carriers of HBV in the world and probably at least as many hepatitis C virus carriers, and when the World Health Organisation estimates that there have been 17 million infections with human immunodeficiency virus, the lessons learnt around 1945 about the need to use sterile instruments and needles for all injections and venepunctures remain highly pertinent.
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