Hand washing is science

This article honors Ignaz Semmelweis, truly the father of scientific hand washing... and the savior of an untold number of children.

He was in charge of a maternity ward back in 1848, a ward in which 1 out of 5 mothers died of childbirth from "childbed fever."

He and his medical colleagues would routinely be dissecting a cadaver in the morning and deliver babies in the afternoon.  One day, a doctor cut himself while delivering a baby.

He died of childbed fever.

Dr. Semmelweis thought there might be a connection between the cadavers and the fever.  Perhaps there was something on the cadavers that was being transmitted to the mothers by the doctors.  Something unseen, but deadly.

So he tried something.  He had the doctors wash their hands and instruments.  He washed them very carefully.  Doctors didn't like the idea that they could be considered "dirty" in any way.

But Semmelweis insisted.  And the Doctors washed.  And the mothers lived.  The mortality rate went from 1 in 5, to 1 in one HUNDRED.

You'd think that he'd be a hero.  But the doctors had their way.

Us fancy doctors, dirty?  They rejected the idea.  They got him fired from his job.  And they watched him die in an asylum at the age of 47.

It took many years for doctors to agree that "germs" existed.  It took even more years for them to accept that there were deadly germs.  Finally, they were convinced that if they washed their hands, lives would be saved.

Once they were convinced, they started singing the same tune and told everyone else to wash their hands.  Some 50 years later.

Am I being a little tough on these long-dead docs? You bet.

There's no excuse for ignoring simple safe procedures that can save lives.  Their ancient arrogance cost the lives of so many young mothers and probably many of their children.

Let's learn from this lesson and do the simple things Semmelweis has left us.  Wash our hands.  Wash our things.  Be safe.

Here's The Guardian article on hand washing history