Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis

(redirected from Ignaz Semmelweis)
Also found in: Dictionary, Medical, Wikipedia.

Semmelweis, Ignaz Philipp

(ĭg`näts fē`lĭp zĕm`əlvīs), 1818–65, Hungarian physician. He was a pioneer in employing asepsis. While on the staff of the general hospital in Vienna, he recognized the infectious nature of puerperal fever and insisted that attendants in obstetrical cases thoroughly cleanse their hands; he thus greatly reduced the mortality rate from infection in childbirth. Ridicule of his belief caused him to leave Vienna (1854) for Pest, Hungary, and ultimately drove him to insanity and suicide. He recorded his results in The Cause, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever (1861, tr. 1941), but the value of his work was not fully recognized until c.1890.


See biographies by L. F. Destouches (tr. 1937) and J. Rich (1961).

Semmelweis, Ignaz Philipp


Born July 1, 1818, in Budapest; died Aug. 13, 1865, in Vienna. Hungarian obstetrician.

In 1844, Semmelweis graduated from the medical faculty at the Vienna Institute. While working in a clinic, he became interested in determining the cause of puerperal sepsis (child-bed fever). Almost one woman in three died during childbirth of this disease. In 1846, long before the discoveries of L. Pasteur and J. Lister, Semmelweis empirically developed a method for combating puerperal sepsis. It involved carefully washing and disinfecting the physician’s hands with a solution of chlorinated lime. The use of this technique resulted in a significant drop in the mortality rate from childbed fever at the obstetrical clinic. However, Semmelweis’ method was received with hostility by the conservative doctors, and he decided to leave Vienna. From 1850 to 1855, he directed the maternity division of St. Rochus Hospital in Budapest. In 1855 he became a professor of theoretical and practical obstetrics at the University of Budapest. His discovery was given full recognition only after his death. In 1906 a monument to Semmelweis with the inscription “Savior of Mothers” was built in Budapest.


Die Aetiologie, der Be griff und die Prophylaxis des Kindbettfiebers. Pest-Vienna-Liepzig, 1861.


Kakushkin, N. “Zemmerveis.” Vrachebnoe delo, 1927, no. 12.
Pakhner, F. Za zhizn’ materei. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from Czech.)


References in periodicals archive ?
Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, discovers that hand-washing prevents a common but fatal bacterial infection contracted by women during childbirth.
Will Sawyer and his right hand Henry the Hand Champion Handwasher went down to Charleston, South Carolina to announce the greatest public health innovation since Ignaz Semmelweis and handwashing in the 1860's.
Ignaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician practicing in the mid-1800's, years before Louis Pasteur came up with his germ theory and Joseph Lister popularized hand washing.
To us, the reticence is just a little too reminiscent of those that balked at the insistence by Ignaz Semmelweis that physicians practice hand-washing in obstetrical wards to limit puerperal fever over a century and a half ago.
Ignaz Semmelweis, a 19th-century Hungarian obstetrician, discovered empirically that by washing his hands between patients, he could sharply cut the number of deaths from childbed fever (Wikipedia 2012).
Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, was derided by his colleagues when he suggested that hand washing between patients might lower the death rate in obstetrical clinics.
Healthcare providers have understood the importance of hand hygiene since 1847 when Ignaz Semmelweis proved the connection between hand washing and the reduction of deaths from childbed (puerperal) fever.
Ignaz Semmelweis never lived to say "I told you so" to all his doctor colleagues in the mid 1800s when he was the lone zealous champion of hand washing as a way to prevent "childbed fever.
Semmelweis, novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine's 1924 fictionalized biography of controversial Vienna obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis, is certainly a curiosity: a medical thesis (Celine was a hygienist) that reads alternately like fiction, prose poetry, and modernist screed.