As the deadlypandemic continues to spread, health officials advise that one of the best ways you can protect yourself from getting sick or spreading germs is to wash your hands regularly. This may seem pretty obvious today, but that’s not always been the case.
The practice of washing one’s hands was first proposed in 1847 by Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, a German-Hungarian physician and scientist known as the “saviour of mothers.” Friday’s animated Google Doodle, which demonstrates the proper way to wash your hands to prevent the spread of disease, also honours Semmelweis. For it was 173 years ago Friday that he was appointed chief resident in the maternity clinic of the Vienna General Hospital, where he discovered a link between transmitted germs and a high mortality rate in new mothers.
Semmelweis discovered that an infection known as “childbed fever” that was killing new mothers in maternity wards across Europe was related to infectious material being transmitted through the hands of doctors who had recently performed operations or autopsies.
He observed that the death rate of women from childbed fever in the hospital’s first clinic, where students doctors were being trained, was two to three times higher than in the second clinic, where midwives were trained. The two clinics used identical techniques, so the cause was baffling.