Doogle recognizes Hungarian physician Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, widely attributed as the first person to discover the medical benefits of handwashing. On this day in 1847, Semmelweis was appointed Chief Resident in the maternity clinic of the Vienna General Hospital, where he deduced and demonstrated that requiring doctors to disinfect their hands vastly reduced the transmission of disease.
Born in Buda (now Budapest), Hungary on July 1st, 1818, Ignaz Semmelweis went on to obtain a doctorate from the University of Vienna and 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 was dedicated to finding the cause. After a thorough investigation, he deduced that the 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.
Unfortunately, many of Semmelweis’ peers initially viewed his ideas with skepticism. Decades later, his hygienic 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 revolutionizing 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.