Either your web browser doesn't support Javascript or it is currently turned off. In the latter case, please turn on Javascript support in your web browser and reload this page. The Covid pandemic is the reason why humanity is paying more attention to the importance of regular and rigorous handwashing. Interestingly, in the nineteenth century, regular and rigorous handwashing was a key and controversial solution proposed by the Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis to cut drastically cases of puerperal fever. The purpose of this study was to provide evidence that the case of Semmelweis and puerperal fever—a crucial historical scientific controversy—can be used as a springboard to promote university student argumentation.

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Lane is curator of an exhibition on the history of midwifery from which this article was derived. All authors helped to assemble the images and to write the article.

The disease progressed rapidly and caused acute symptoms of severe abdominal pain, fever, and debility. Therapy usually involved bloodletting, but with or without this treatment the disease was often fatal. She died two weeks after giving birth to Henry's only surviving son, the future Edward VI of England. If Holmes now stands in Semmelweis's shadow, it is because Holmes's own medical reputation was largely eclipsed by the brilliant success he achieved in the fields of literature, poetry, and popular lectures.

Even his own profession came to value him more as a professor and poet than as a fearless and outspoken defender of the life and health of childbearing women. In the late nineteenth century, Oliver Wendell Holmes was so popular that his image and lines from his poetry and prose appeared on items such as this calendar, as well as games, postcards, and gift books.

Semmelwei s Defender of Motherhood. Born into a family whose ancestors had distinguished themselves in both literature and medicine, Holmes attended Harvard University and also studied at the prestigious medical schools of Paris.

After two and a half years, he returned to the United States and received his medical degree from Harvard in He maintained a small medical practice for 12 years but found that his main interests lay in teaching and research.

Because the paper was published in the New England Quarterly Journal of Medicine and Surgery , 3 a journal with a very small circulation which ceased publication after only one year, it went largely unnoticed until it was republished in as a booklet entitled Puerperal Fever, as a Private Pestilence. Holmes was promptly attacked by the leading Philadelphia obstetrician, Charles D. A few years later, Semmelweis took up the struggle in Europe to persuade other physicians of the contagiousness of puerperal fever.

Semmelweis completed his MD degree at the University of Vienna in In , he was appointed assistant to Johannes Klein in the maternity clinic of the Vienna General Hospital. The only difference he could find between the two clinics was that the first was used to train medical students whereas the second trained midwives. The maternal mortality rate immediately fell to that of the Second Clinic. Semmelweis soon became the focus of a fierce power struggle within the Vienna medical faculty as his work became the subject of a bitter dispute among European obstetricians.

He became depressed and started drinking; his public behavior became irritating and embarrassing to his professional colleagues and to his family. In he was deceived into entering an insane asylum and when he tried to escape, he was severely beaten by guards. A gangrenous wound to his hand, probably caused by the beating, led to his untimely death two weeks later.

Thanks to the work of Holmes and Semmelweis, the gradual acceptance of sterile procedures, and to a variety of other factors such as improved environmental conditions, better overall obstetrical care, and the availability of antibiotics, puerperal fever has become rare in developed countries.

In time, with sufficient organization, political will, and dedication, maternal mortality will be very rare in all parts of the world. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.

Am J Public Health. Hilary J. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Correspondence should be sent to Ms.

Contributors H. Received October 19, This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Open in a separate window. References 1. Saunders Company, , 99 [ Google Scholar ]. Support Center Support Center. External link. Please review our privacy policy.


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Best Mark, Neuhauser D. Ignaz Semmelweis and the birth of infection control. Quality and Safety in Health Care. Miranda M, Navarrete L. Rev Chilena Infectol. Clin Infect Dis. Aires de Sousa M, de Lencastre H.


Using Historical Scientific Controversies to Promote Undergraduates’ Argumentation.

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Early research on puerperal fever: Scientific imbroglio and object of reflection


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