Ignaz Semmelweis Just Wanted People To Wash Their Hands

Everyone knows to wash their hands, right? Maybe today they do, but that was not always the case. Enter Ignaz Semmelweis. During Semmelweis' time, bacteria were not widely believed to be a cause of disease. Semmelweis pioneered the idea that washing hands between working with cadavers and delivering babies would reduce the cases of disease in the babies. The results were inarguable (spoiler alert: his idea was right on the money), but many surgeons refused to take the advice from the shy scientist. Semmelweis suffered a nervous breakdown after so many of his peers ridiculed and rejected his groundbreaking discovery.

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, aged 42 in 1860 copperplate engraving by Jenő Doby.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Ignaz Semmelweis first suggested washing hands before delivering babies, and infant death rates plummeted. 01:12

  2. People once believed in "miasmas," which were foul smells that were thought to cause disease. 03:26

  3. Ignaz Semmelweis suffered a nervous breakdown largely because very few people believed his research that washing hands prevented disease. 04:27

Written by Curiosity Staff August 6, 2015

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