Semmelweis, Ignaz Philipp

Semmelweis, Ignaz Philipp
SUBJECT AREA: Medical technology
b. 1 July 1818 Budapest, Austro-Hungary
d. 17 August 1865 Budapest, Austro-Hungary
Hungarian physician whose regime of chemical cleansing of the hands radically reduced the mortality associated with puerperal sepsis.
Originally a law student, he abandoned that discipline for medicine and graduated at Vienna in 1844. He was immediately appointed Assistant Professor in the midwifery department under Johann Klein. At this time there was a maternal mortality rate from sepsis of not less than 16 per cent in the students' wards, although the rate was not as high in the midwives' wards. The death of a colleague from a dissection wound led Semmelweis to associate the infection in the lying-in wards with inadequate cleaning of the hands of doctors who went straight from the dissecting room to attend deliveries.
In 1847 he instituted a regime of hand washing with chlorinated lime water, and by the end of the year the mortality in the students' ward had fallen to 1 per cent, less than that in the midwives' ward. However, Klein refused to accept the implications of these findings, and Semmelweis was dismissed from Vienna in 1849.
He was able to obtain a further post in Budapest in 1850, and during the ensuing six years he effected a similar reduction in puerperal mortality by the same methods. Of an impatient and irascible character, in 1865 he was committed to a mental institution, dying shortly afterwards from septicaemia arising in a dissection wound suffered before his admission.
1861, Die Aetiologie der Begriffund die Prophylaxis des Kind betfeibers, Vienna.
Further Reading
A.Castiglioni, 1947, History of Medicine, London.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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