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Home »  Living Healthy »  This Scientist Pioneered Handwashing Practice 173 Years Ago

This Scientist Pioneered Handwashing Practice 173 Years Ago

Dr Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever (also known as "childbed fever") could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection in clinics.

This Scientist Pioneered Handwashing Practice 173 Years Ago

Born in 1818, Semmelweis was an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures

As the deadly new coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread and hand sanitizers disappear at both retail and online stores, Google researchers have dug out a German-Hungarian physician and scientist known as the "saviour of mothers" by proposing handwashing way back in 1847.

Celebrating the efforts of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis in the times of hand sanitizing and cleanliness to prevent the spread the germs on top of every human's mind of Earth.

Born in 1818, Semmelweis was an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures.


He discovered that the incidence of puerperal fever (also known as "childbed fever") could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection in clinics.

Puerperal fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal.

Semmelweis proposed the practice of washing hands with chlorinated lime solutions in 1847 while working in Vienna General Hospital's First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctors' wards had three times the mortality of midwives' wards.

He later published his findings in a book titled 'Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever'.

Despite various publications of results where hand washing reduced mortality to below 1 per cent, Semmelweis's observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions at that time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community.

Hand cleanliness was largely ignored, rejected or ridiculed at that time.

He was dismissed from the hospital for political reasons and harassed by the medical community in Vienna, being eventually forced to move to Budapest.

In 1865, Semmelweis supposedly suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to an asylum by his colleague.

He died 14 days later, at the age of 47, after being beaten by the guards, from a gangrenous wound on his right hand which might have been caused by the beating, according to media reports.


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The scientist instituted a policy of using a solution of chlorinated lime (calcium hypochlorite) for washing hands between autopsy work and the examination of patients.

He did this because he found that this chlorinated solution worked best to remove the putrid smell of infected autopsy tissue, and thus perhaps destroyed the causal "poisonous" or contaminating "cadaveric" agent hypothetically being transmitted by this material.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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