Ignaz Semmelweis


Ignaz Semmelweis

Budapest, Belváros-Lipótváros, Budapest, Hungary
Death 13 Aug 1865 (aged 47)
Vienna, Wien Stadt, Vienna (Wien), Austria
Cenotaph Kerepesdűlő, Józsefváros, Budapest, Hungary
Plot plot 34/2
Memorial ID 9582 View Source
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Medical Pioneer. He has received world-wide notoriety as a 19th century Hungarian physician, who introduce the idea of hand-washing to control the transmission of bacteria. Until the late 1800s surgeons did not scrub prior to preforming a surgical procedure or wash their hands between patients, and without knowing it, caused infections to be transferred from one patient to another. He reasoned and then proved that rigorous hand-washing by the nurses and other staff members in the maternity ward drastically reduced the number of postpartum deaths. Doctors and medical students routinely would go from dissecting diseased corpses to examining new mothers without first washing their hands, causing death puerperal or “Childbirth Fever” as the results. For this, he was known as the “Savior of the Mothers.” Born Ignaz Philipp Semmelwesis in what was the Hungarian Empire, he was of German-Hungarian ancestry. He was educated at the Pest University in Budapest, Hungary and University of Vienna in Austria receiving his medical degree from Vienna in 1844 with a two-year appointment to the obstetric ward in Vienna. During this era, most childbirths were at home, but for those done in the hospital environment, the death rate was as high as 30% as compared to 2% in home births. He addressed this concern realizing this could be preventable. He dismissed the idea of overcrowding in the wards, poor ventilation, the onset of lactation, and other possible causes, before realizing it was the contact from a pair of dirty hands that was the reason for the infection. With the death of a colleague who had infected wound, he reasoned that his colleague had received the infection during the examination of a woman who later died from puerperal. From this, he had all his students wash their hands with a solution of chlorinated lime between the dissecting room and the maternity ward with healthy mothers. Although many young physicians accepted his research, older ones did not, hence his position was not renewed in 1849. He could work on the ward but not teach or do research. Eventually, he left Vienna to return to Budapest by 1851 to accepted a position in obstetric ward. In 1855 he left this position to become a professor at Pest University. In 1861 he published a poorly-edited text, “The Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.” He presented lectures on the subject to academies of physicians, but his research was rejected by major medical authorities. Years of rejection broke his spirit. With the onset of the symptoms of depression and dementia, or maybe Alzheimer's Disease, he was committed to an insane asylum in 1865. Sources state he was beaten by the staff receiving a hand wound, while other sources state he was admitted with a operative incision on his hand, whichever, he died of an infected hand wound. His pioneer research on the control of infections was later expanded by Joseph Lister, the “Father of Modern Antisepsis.” An Austrian postage stamp with his image was issued in 1965 in recognition of his research 100 years earlier. In the medical world, he is considered the “Father of Infection Control.”

Bio by: Linda Davis

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 29 May 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 9582
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Ignaz Semmelweis (1 Jul 1818–13 Aug 1865), Find a Grave Memorial ID 9582, citing National Graveyard in Fiumei Street, Kerepesdűlő, Józsefváros, Budapest, Hungary ; Maintained by Find A Grave .