Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818-1865)
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Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis demonstrated that the use of disinfectants could reduce the occurrence of puerperal fever in patients in nineteenth century Austria. Puerperal fever is a bacterial infection that can occur in the uterine tract of women after giving birth or undergoing an abortion. Semmelweis determined that puerperal fever is contagious and argued that the unhygienic practices of physicians, like examining patients after performing autopsies, caused the spread of puerperal fever. He showed that if physicians washed their hands with a chloride solution before they attended patients, then they prevented those patients from developing puerperal fever. Despite being widely criticized during his lifetime, Semmelweis's research on the contagiousness of puerperal fever set a precedent for many scientists, and contributed to preventing the spread of puerperal fever.