Ignaz Semmelweis: Google Doodle honours doctor dubbed ‘father of infection control’

Hand washing is one of the most effective methods of preventing spread of disease, according to World Health Organisation

Chelsea Ritschel
Friday 20 March 2020 15:51
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Google Doodle recognises Ignaz Semmelweis: first person to discover medical benefits of hand washing

As coronavirus continues to impact millions of people around the globe, Google is highlighting the importance of hand washing with a Doodle dedicated to Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, known as the “father of infection control”.

Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, is widely recognised as being the first person to discover the medical benefits of hand washing.

On 20 March 1847, Semmelweis demonstrated the importance of clean hands when he was appointed chief resident in the maternity clinic of the Vienna General Hospital and began requiring all physicians to disinfect their hands with a solution of chlorinated lime.

Prior to his appointment, new mothers were dying at high rates of an infection referred to at the time as “childbed fever” in hospital.

After launching an investigation, Semmelweis deduced that the cause was doctors carrying infectious diseases on their hands from operating rooms to the new mothers.

As a result of his hand disinfection initiative, “mortality rates in the first division dropped from 18.27 to 1.27 per cent, and in March and August of 1848 no woman died in childbirth in his division,” according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Despite the correlation between doctors with clean hands and lower death rates, many of Semmelweis’s colleagues in the medical world rejected or ridiculed his idea.

Semmelweis became increasingly frustrated with his contemporaries, whom he accused of murder over their lack of belief in the importance of medical cleanliness, and was eventually admitted to a mental hospital, where he later died.

It wasn’t until after Semmelweis’s death that his beliefs were validated, through the widespread acceptance of the “germ theory of disease,” according to the Doodle.

In addition to paying tribute to Semmelweis’s work, the Google Doodle is especially timely as it aims to educate people around the world about the proper way to wash one’s hands – one of the most effective methods of preventing the spread of disease - by sharing tips and an educational video from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to WHO, people should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.

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