How the founder of antiseptics was “hounded” for washing his hands

Until about the middle of the 19th century, maternity fever was raging in obstetric clinics in Europe, the causes of which were variously speculated, but no one guessed, as well as the role of antiseptics and hygiene in medicine.

In 1847, the obstetrician of one of the maternity hospitals in Vienna, Ignaz Semmelweis, trying to understand the causes of postpartum fever (sepsis) in many women in labor - and, in particular, the fact that mortality during childbirth in a hospital (30-40 and even 50%) far exceeded mortality at home births, - suggested that the infection is brought from the infectious and pathological departments of the hospital. Doctors at that time practiced a lot in the dissection room, and they often came to deliver childbirth right after the autopsy, wiping their hands with handkerchiefs. Semmelweis ordered the hospital staff to disinfect their hands by dipping them in a solution of bleach before manipulating pregnant women and women in labor. Thanks to this, mortality among women and newborns fell more than 7 times - from 18 to 2.5%.

However, the Semmelweiss hypothesis did not find early acceptance. Moreover, the progress of its discovery met with all sorts of obstacles. The discovery of Semmelweis caused a sharp wave of criticism both against his discovery and against himself - his colleagues scoffed at Semmelweis and even hounded him.

The clinic's director, Dr. Klein, banned I.F.Semmelweis from publishing statistics on the reduction in mortality after the introduction of hand sterilization and expelled him from work, despite the fact that mortality in the clinic plummeted. Moreover, Klein said that "he would consider such a publication a denunciation." Semmelweis wrote letters to leading doctors, spoke at medical conferences, organized the training of doctors in his own method at his own expense, published a separate work "Etiology, essence and prevention of childbirth fever" (German: Die Aetiologie, der Begriff und die Prophylaxis des Kindbettfiebers) in 1861. However, during his lifetime, his method did not earn any wide recognition, and throughout the world the death of women in labor due to sepsis continued.

The idea of ​​Semmelweis evoked such strong rejection that the medical community was not convinced even by the suicide of the German doctor Gustav Michaelis, who was one of the first to put into practice the ideas of Semmelweis and achieved a decrease in mortality among his patients, but committed suicide due to the death of a loved one from childbirth fever and awareness of their own inability to change the general opinion of the medical community.

There is evidence that his colleague at the University of Pest and family doctor Janos Balassa drew up a document according to which it was recommended to send Semmelweis to a psychiatric hospital. On July 30, 1865, Ferdinand Ritter von Gebra tricked him into visiting an insane asylum in Döbling near Vienna. When Semmelweis understood everything and tried to escape, the hospital staff beat him, dressed him in a straitjacket and placed him in a dark room. As a treatment, he was prescribed a laxative and douches with cold water. Two weeks later he died and was the Kerepesi cemetery in Budapest.

Interesting Facts About Ignaz Semmelweis:

Ignaz Semmelweis made his discovery 18 years earlier than the English surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to prove the importance of hygiene and antiseptics in medicine.

After the unfair persecution of the doctor, the concept of the Semmelweis Reflex appeared in psychology, which denotes the denial of new data on the basis that they contradict established ideas.

In 1906, in Budapest, a monument was erected to Semmelweis by donations from doctors from all over the world, on which is written "The Savior of Mothers" (sculptor Alaios Strobl).