History of the medical use of silver

Surg Infect (Larchmt). 2009 Jun;10(3):289-92. doi: 10.1089/sur.2008.9941.


Background: Silver has been used extensively throughout recorded history for a variety of medical purposes.

Methods: A review of the literature in English was undertaken, primarily using PUBMED, to identify the medical uses of silver before the clinical introduction of antibiotics in the 1940s.

Results: Silver has been used for at least six millennia to prevent microbial infections. It has been effective against almost all organisms tested and has been used to treat numerous infections and noninfectious conditions, sometimes with striking success. Silver also has played an important role in the development of radiology and in improving wound healing.

Conclusion: Silver was the most important antimicrobial agent available before the introduction of antibiotics.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / history*
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Silver / history*
  • Silver / therapeutic use*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Silver