Commemorating the bicentenary of the doctor who championed aseptic practice in obstetric medicine
Asepsis and antiseptic technique are fundamental to modern medicine, a fact evident on any Australian hospital ward with its diverse array of sanitisers, soaps, and antiseptic sprays. Infection control staff regularly scurry about our workplaces, hand hygiene is encouraged in every corridor, and few medical procedures are possible without removing at least one item from a sterile plastic wrapper. Less than 200 years ago, however, medicine was performed without any effective antisepsis. One of the pioneers in this area was Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865), the Hungarian obstetrician who dedicated his career to reducing maternal mortality by strict insistence on hand washing, facilitating what William Osler (1849–1919) described as “one of the most striking of all victories of preventive medicine … the almost total abolition of so-called child-bed fever from the maternity hospitals.”1
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