Wash Those Hands: The Pioneer of Infection Control
Updated: Apr 11
My blogs are focused on extraordinary experiences and spiritual phenomenon. Yet, once in a while, I feel compelled to write about issues impacting not only our nation, but mankind itself.
Protecting ourselves from the virulent and all too frequently deadly pandemic is one such issue-specifically, hygienic awareness.
As children, we are all taught to wash our hands. The “why” is simple. Washing ones hands with soap kills germs, helps prevent infection, and spread of disease. This simple practice can reduce respiratory illness alone by 21%. The CDC states hand-washing is one of the most important steps one can take to avoid illness, due to the following reasons:
● People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes and make us sick.
● Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, tabletops, or keyboards, and then be transferred to another person’s hands.
● Removing germs through hand-washing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.
The Covid-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, been a part of our lives for over a year. It has changed the way we live, socialize, and work. Yet, there is light at the end of this grueling tunnel-as vaccines are becoming available, albeit in stages, to our populace. Sadly, the COVID-19 vaccine has become a polarizing topic. Many are eagerly awaiting vaccination. Others will outright refuse one.
Yet, nearly all of us agree on one thing-that thoroughly washing our hands helps prevent the spread of this deadly disease.
I am not a scientist nor an infectious disease doctor. However, my ever curious self always desires to know the why of everything. So-I decided to research the origin of hand-sanitizing. Who “invented” it, realizing it’s incredible, disease preventing significance.
Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865), was a Hungarian physician and chief resident at Vienna General Hospital. Vienna General had an excessively high maternal mortality rate (18%) due to puerperal fever, a bacterial uterine infection following childbirth. Puerperal fever was highly contagious, and quickly spread throughout the hospital. Extremely concerned, Semmelweis was determined to identify the cause of its transmission.
He observed that medical students would frequently autopsy cadavers prior to assisting in delivery rooms. At the time, the understanding of germ transmission was undetermined. However, Semmelweis theorized that students were transferring bacteria from cadavers to women giving birth. In other words, they were not sanitizing their hands after post-mortem examination. Thus, he insisted that medical staff wash their hands in chlorinated lime solutions after all procedures. Semmelweis’s hypothesis proved accurate. Maternity ward mortality rates plummeted from eighteen percent to two percent.
Yet, the medical field ridiculed Semmelweis. Physicians refused to believe that their own uncleanliness could spread disease, and instead, upheld the prevailing theory that infection was spread through the air by miasma (a poisonous vapor or mist). Ostracized by his peers, Semmelweis became increasingly depressed and isolated.
He was outraged by the dismissal and lack of validation from the medical community, which ignored, rejected, and ridiculed his theory. Suffering from severe depression, he began to drink heavily. His public behavior became increasingly embarrassing, eccentric, and inappropriate. His wife believed he had suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1865, he was committed to a Viennese mental asylum, where he remained until his death, all but forgotten by his colleagues.
Semmelweis’ practice only earned widespread acceptance years after his death, when Louis Pasteur presented a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis’ findings. Today, Semmelweis is known as “the man who invented modern infection control,” and is widely considered the pioneer of antiseptic procedures.
His discovery has helped to define modern medicine.
Semmelweis’ doctrine was subsequently (and decades later) accepted by medical science His influence on the development of knowledge and control of infection was hailed by the late Joseph Lister, MD.
“I think with the greatest admiration of him and his achievement and it fills me with joy that at last he is given the respect due to him.”
-Joseph Lister, British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery.
Please pay conscious attention to hand-washing. Do not practice what I call the “splash and dash,” (which I have been guilty of in the past). This infers splashing our hands under cold water, with merely a quick swipe of soap, for perhaps 5 seconds. Those days are over. And a big THANK YOU to Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, the ingenious, yet eccentric, hand-sanitizing pioneer.
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