It's the year 1847, at a hospital in Vienna. The theory of spontaneous generation is still prevalent in medical circles and story of biotechnology has not yet begun. Hungarian doctor, Ignaz Semmelweis, noting high incidence of post-partum deaths from puerpural fever (caused by Streptococcus organisms), in a wing where medical students are trained, postulates that the students were spreading diseased particles to the new mothers after having handled infected cadavers. He begins a program wherein the students wash their hands with chlorinated water before making rounds, and the death rate drops dramatically.
Although Dr. Semmelweis was not quite on the mark about the cause of childbed fever, he had pinpointed a key fact that we take for granted today: Hand washing prevents the spread of germs. A key strategy for fighting H1N1 (Swine Flu) around the world today, is public education on the importance of washing our hands especially after sneezing, blowing noses or contact with other potentially infected individuals. Dr. Semmelweis was ridiculed by the medical profession and lost his job. Imagine where we would be today, in the fight against Swine Flu, if the germ theory had never caught on? If only he was around today to see how significant his observations were!
The Semmelweis Society International is a website named in honor of the shamed doctor, with the intent to address bioethics issues and assist physicians and other medical professionals who are falsely accused of misconduct or subjected to biased peer review.
Source: Biotech Chronicles: www.accessexcellence.org