Ignaz Semmelweis

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Ignaz Philipp Semmelweiss[Note 1] (July 1, 1818 – August 13, 1865; in Hungarian Semmelweis Ignác Fülöp or slightly "internationalized" Ignac Semmelweiss), was a Hungarian physician described as the "savior of mothers",[1] who discovered by 1847 that the incidence of puerperal fever could be drastically cut by the use of hand disinfection (by means of hand washing with chlorinated lime solution) in obstetrical clinics.[1] Puerperal fever (or childbed fever) was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal, with mortality at 10%–35%. Semmelweis postulated the theory of washing with "chlorinated lime solutions" in 1847[1] while working in Vienna General Hospital's First Obstetrical Clinic, where doctors' wards had three times the mortality of midwives' wards. He published a book of his findings in childbed fever in Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis's practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory. In 1865, a nervous breakdown (or possibly Alzheimer's) landed him in an asylum, where Semmelweis ironically died of septicemia, at age 47.


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