Ignaz Semmelweis Taught Us Hand Washing for COVID-19

Hand washing is one of the most effective preventive measures against COVID-19 – the disease ravaging the world now. Google Doodles is recognising Ignaz Semmelweis – the Hungarian physician who discovered the medical benefits of handwashing.

Google Doodles celebrates Ignaz Semmelweis and handwashing. Click to watch the video.
Google Doodles celebrates Ignaz Semmelweis and handwashing. Click to watch the video.

Dr Ignaz Semmelweis was appointed Chief Resident in the maternity clinic of the Vienna General Hospital 173 years ago in 1847, where he deduced and demonstrated that requiring doctors to disinfect their hands vastly reduced the transmission of disease.

Print out this poster on proper handwashing techniques.
Print out this poster on proper handwashing techniques.

Semmelweis had noticed that a mysterious and poorly understood infection known as “childbed fever” was leading to high mortality rates in new mothers in maternity wards across Europe in the mid-19th century.

Semmelweis deduced that the doctors were transmitting infectious material from prior operations and autopsies to susceptible mothers through their hands.

He required doctors to wash their hands with chlorinated lime water before examining pregnant women.

As a result, the documented mortality rate plunged from 18% to 2.2% over a period of a year.

Despite what he proved, many of Semmelweis’ peers were skeptical about his ideas.

It was decades later that his hygienic recommendations were validated by the widespread acceptance of the “germ theory of disease”.

Today, Semmelweis is widely recognised as “the father of infection control,” credited with revolutionising not just obstetrics, but the medical field itself.

So the next time you wash your hands as a precaution against the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, remember Ignaz Semmelweis.

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