I was searching around the internet about a year ago and wondered who the first person was that figured out we should wash our hands to reduce the spread of germs. I also figured out why the popular brand of hand sanitizer is called Purell. I came across this story and wanted to share it with you.
In 1847, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis pioneered the prevention of transmission of disease by washing hands (Prophylaxis), reducing the mortality rate due to Puerperal Fever from 12% to almost ZERO by enforcing the washing of hands with chlorinated lime.
At the time, Dr. Semmelweis’ hypothesis was considered extreme and was widely rejected and ridiculed. When he refused to compromise his beliefs, the hospital that employed him was pressured into terminating his clinical privileges. Semmelweis’ sole “crime” was that he proposed a contrarian idea to current thinking, which directly challenged the (incorrect) current medical theories of his time.
Despite the continued ridicule, hostility, and unemployment, Dr. Semmelweis tirelessly promoted his theory, sometimes denouncing physicians who refused to wash their hands as irresponsible murderers. His contemporaries eventually concluded that he was crazy and, in 1865, committed him to a mental institution where he was beaten to death by guards.
Dr. Semmelweis’s theory was considered irrelevant, until Louis Pasteur connected germs to disease, and Prophylaxis is now considered standard practice around the world. The 1800s medical community’s refusal to consider his theories earlier clearly resulted in the continued unnecessary spread of disease and death throughout the world.
Backward and reactionary thinking did not die with Dr. Semmelweis in 1865. Highly qualified and competent physicians, scientists, healthcare personnel, and government employees continue to suffer similar retaliation throughout the United States, which is why organizations like Semmelweis Society International and the Alliance for Patient Safety participated in the recent Whistleblower Week in Washington.
The Semmelweis Society International annually recognizes individual Healthcare Providers, Researchers, and associated personnel, who have regularly challenged the status quo, who have reported issues, often controversial issues, regarding patient health and safety. Semmelweis Awardees have often had to endure the tyranny of threats and retaliation, and actual financial ruination, in some cases. Without these courageous individuals, progress and innovation in medicine, public service, and industry is inhibited, or negated.
May every step you take be healthy!