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'Branalcane' tonic, London, England, 1895-1930

The lurid magenta coloured liquid looks as though it would do more harm than good. It is actually an antiseptic tonic used for infections of the skin and mucous membrane. These could range from a sore throat or thrush to potentially fatal diseases such as diphtheria, for which treatment was limited until the mass immunisation programmes of the 1940s. After the results of tests were published in the medical press in 1897 the treatment was considered a useful household addition against mild ailments, especially as it was also non-irritating to the body. ‘Branalcane’ was the trade name created by its makers, the same company which today manufactures the disinfectant known as Jeyes’ fluid.

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Glossary: bottle

Vessels having a neck and mouth considerably narrower than the body, used for packaging and containing liquid and dry preparations

Glossary: antiseptic

A chemical that destroys or holds back the growth of bacteria and harmful micro-organisms. It can be used to cleanse skin wounds and treat some internal infections if it is sufficiently non-toxic.

Glossary: diphtheria

An acute highly contagious infection, generally affecting the throat but occasionally other mucous membranes and the skin. Diphtheria has been largely eradicated due to world-wide vaccination efforts.

Glossary: disinfectant

Material used for killing germs, bacteria, or spores.

Glossary: thrush

A yeast infection that affects the mouth, gut and vagina. Usual symptoms include redness, soreness and itching.