Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Google on Friday recognised Hungarian physician Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, who is widely known to be the first person who discovered the medical benefits of handwashing. In an animated doodle, Semmelweis is seen with a soap dispenser as a video showing hands being washed is played in a background.
It was on this day in 1847 that Semmelweis was appointed Chief Resident in the maternity clinic of the Vienna General Hospital, where he appealed to doctors to disinfect their hands as it would reduced the transmission of disease.
Born in Buda (now Budapest), Hungary on July 1, 1818, Dr Semmelweis completed his doctorate from the University of Vienna and got a Master’s degree in midwifery. When he began his tenure at the Vienna General Hospital in the mid 19th century, a mysterious and poorly understood infection known as “childbed fever” was leading to high mortality rates in new mothers in maternity wards across Europe.
Semmelweis, who was dedicated to find the cause of the disease, investigated the infection to find that doctors were transmitting infectious material from earlier operations and autopsies to susceptible mothers through their hands. He immediately instituted a requirement that all medical staff wash their hands in between patient examinations, and as a result, infection rates in his division began to plummet.
His ideas were not always welcomed. He was ridiculed by his peers. It was only decades later that his recommendations were validated by the widespread acceptance of the “germ theory of disease.”
Today, Semmelweis is widely remembered as “the father of infection control,” credited with revolutionising not just obstetrics, but the medical field itself, informing generations beyond his own that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of diseases.
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