[QODLink]
The Cure

Unsung Hero: Ignaz Semmelweis

The physician who discovered that doctors could save patients' lives simply by washing their hands.

Last Modified: 21 Aug 2013 07:42
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

It is 1847 and the death rate among pregnant women in the obstetric clinics where the Viennese physician Ignaz Semmelweis works is high. Puerperal fever, which is an infection of the female reproductive organs following childbirth, is a common cause of death and is almost seen as inevitable by medics at the time.

However, a worrying trend in the clinics which Semmelweis supervises in Vienna catches his eye.

After dealing with women so desperate to avoid one clinic that they would rather give birth in the street, Semmelweis decided to look into mortality rates.

He found that the student-run clinic had a much higher mortality rate from puerperal fever than the clinic run by midwives; sometimes three times higher.

Semmelweis came to the conclusion that the students carried something from the mortuary where they carried out autopsies, to the women they later examined. He ordered the students to wash their hands with chlorinated lime solution before every examination. Almost immediately, the mortality rate fell from 18 percent to one percent.

Despite the successful hand-washing policy, Semmelweis could offer no acceptable medical explanation for its effectiveness. The idea that germs exist and cause infections was not developed at the time.

After struggling for years to promote his hand disinfection policies, Semmelweis was admitted to an insane asylum at the age of 47, and he died 14 days later.

In this animation for The Cure, we explore Semmelweis’s ground-breaking contribution to the field of medical hygiene.

 

Watch The Cure on Tuesday: 2230; Wednesday: 0930; Thursday: 0330; Friday: 1630; Saturday: 2230; Sunday: 0930; Monday: 0330; Tuesday: 1630 GMT. 

Join the conversation on Facebook and on Twitter

316

Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
City
Featured on Al Jazeera
The author argues that in the new economy, it's people, not skills or majors, that have lost value.
Colleagues of detained Al Jazeera journalists press demands for their release, 100 days after their arrest in Egypt.
Mehdi Hasan discusses online freedoms and the potential of the web with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.
A tight race seems likely as 814 million voters elect leaders in world's largest democracy next week.
Featured
A vocal minority in Ukraine's east wants to join Russia, and Kiev has so far been unable to put down the separatists.
Iran's government has shifted its take on 'brain drain' but is the change enough to reverse the flow?
Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.
Activists say 'Honor Diaries' documentary exploits gender-based violence to further an anti-Islamic agenda.
As Syria's civil war escalates along the Turkish border, many in Turkey are questioning the country's involvement.
join our mailing list