196 – Semmelweis Day

Today we celebrate 196 years since Dr. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, savior of mothers was born.

March 20, 1847 was the first official day that Semmelweis assumed his position as assistant physician in the maternity clinic in Vienna, Austria.

Semmelweis is credited with recognizing the high death toll among women during childbirth caused by physicians using unsanitary procedures.  He instituted the disinfection of physicians’ hands with a concentrated chlorine solution and the death rate of new mothers plummeted.  His research and practical applications assisted later proponents of the germ theory of disease and also indirectly contributed to the use of chlorine for disinfection of drinking water.

“Despite various publications of results where hand-washing reduced mortality to below 1%, Semmelweis’s observations conflicted with the established scientific and medical opinions of the time and his ideas were rejected by the medical community. Some doctors were offended at the suggestion that they should wash their hands and Semmelweis could offer no acceptable scientific explanation for his findings. Semmelweis’s practice earned widespread acceptance only years after his death, when Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and Joseph Lister, acting on the French microbiologist’s research, practiced and operated, using hygienic methods, with great success. In 1865, Semmelweis was committed to an asylum, where he died at age 47 after being beaten by the guards, only 14 days after he was committed.” (Reference: Semmelweis, Ignaz. The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Translated by K. Codell Carter. Madison:University of Wisconsin. 1983.) Very few people attended his funeral. In 1891, his body was transferred to Budapest. A statue was only erected to him and his achievements in 1894, nearly thirty years after his death.

Today the world is still fighting hospital infections, which kill hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Hospitals are lacking in new technologies to help prevent the occurrence of these infections, that are mostly transmitted via hands. Studies show that with proper hand hygiene protocol and practice 30% of HAI occurence could be prevented. This means also saving additional costs related to these infections.

The WHO guidelines on hand hygiene in health care provide health-care workers (HCWs), hospital administrators and health authorities with a thorough review of evidence on hand hygiene in health care and specific recommendations to improve practices and reduce transmission of pathogenic microorganisms to patients and HCWs.These guidelines are intended to be implemented in any situation in which healthcare is delivered either to a patient or to a specific group in a population. As one of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely collaborating with WHO and is focused on Infectious diseases within the United States, just as the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), whose mission is also to identify, assess and communicate current and emerging threats to human health posed by infectious diseases.