Before the discovery of antibiotics, surgeons used to stitch wounds with thread woven with silver as they believed it helped to prevent infection.
Meanwhile, bandages were laced with silver in the First World War, as it was thought to help save lives. And they were right.
As shown in more than a thousand medical studies, silver has powerful antiseptic and wound-healing properties. So just what are the health secrets of this precious metal?
'Research has shown that silver is a powerful antimicrobial agent that is non-irritating and non-toxic,' says Valerie Edwards Jones, professor of microbiology at Manchester Metropolitan University. 'Recent studies have shown that silver can kill up to 650 species of pathogenic microbes.
'The metal consists of thousands of tiny silver ions,' she says. 'These prevent bacteria, viruses and fungi from spreading by entering the cell and deactivating proteins. The microbes cannot reproduce and die, so the spread of infection is prevented.'
There has been a resurgence of medical interest in silver, according to Prof Edwards Jones, because it effectively kills antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA.
In 2007, the NHS spent more than £23million on silver dressings for leg ulcers and the Health Protection Agency has recommended that silver-coated catheters be introduced for the prevention of urinary tract infections. Indeed, silver is set to be increasingly added to medical equipment and hospital furniture as a way of preventing hospital-based infections. 'Research with the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust has found that silver, incorporated in the surfaces of hospital equipment furniture, can reduce bacterial levels by 99 per cent,' says Dr Richard Hastings, microbiologist for BioCote, a Wolverhampton company that makes silver-based medical products. 'This, in turn, cuts infection risk from superbugs such as MRSA, E. coli and salmonella.' Silver is also emerging as an effective tool for the treatment of skin conditions, burns and wounds.