Joseph Lister

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Lister, Joseph


Born Apr. 5, 1827, in Upton, Essex; died Feb. 10, 1912, in Walmer, Kent. English surgeon, famous for his introduction of antisepsis into surgical practice.

Lister graduated from University College, London, in 1852. He became a professor of surgery at Glasgow in 1860 and at Edinburgh in 1869. He taught in London from 1877 to 1882. In 1896 he was appointed chairman of the Royal Surgical Society of London. He was president of the Royal Society of London from 1895 to 1900.

On the basis of works by N. I. Pirogov, I. P. Semmelweiss, and L. Pasteur, in addition to his own research, Lister suggested in 1867 that wound infection, which at that time led to enormous postoperative mortality, is caused by a live pathogen introduced into the wound from without. He was the first to develop theoretically supported measures to control surgical infections. The method consisted of applying to the wound a hermetic triple-layer dressing saturated in carbolic acid, spraying the air of the operating room with carbolic acid, and washing the operative area and treating the surgeon’s hands, instruments, sutures, and gauze with carbolic acid.

With the introduction of Lister’s method, mortality after operations decreased sharply and septic complications almost disappeared. However, Lister attached excessive importance to airborne infection and paid little attention to infection through contact; when it was established that the pathogen is found mainly on the patient’s skin and the surgeon’s hands, he rejected the spraying method (1887). E. Bergmann subsequently developed a more refined method of asepsis.

Lister perfected the technique of resection of the radiocarpal joint in tuberculosis and introduced antiseptic, resorptive catgut as a suture material. He did work in anatomy, histology, and microbiology, and he was the first (1852) to describe the muscles of the iris that dilate and constrict the pupil. He discovered Bacterium lactis, the causative agent of lactic-acid fermentation.


The Collected Papers, vols. 1–2. Oxford, 1909.


Mechnikov, I. I. Osnovateli sovremennoi meditsiny Paster-Lister-Kokh. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925.
Skorokhodov, L. Ia. Dzhozef Lister (1827–1912).
Stoletie antiseptiki. Leningrad, 1971. (Bibliography, pp. 79–80.)


References in periodicals archive ?
Joseph Lister had little interest in financial or social success.
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Whole chapters are devoted to Alexander Gordon, who is credited with being the first person to fully appreciate the fact that puerperal fever could be conveyed from patient to patient on the hands of the midwife or surgeon, to Ignaz Semmelweis, who is said to have been the first individual to insist that all practitioners must wash their hands before having contact with women in childbed, and Joseph Lister, who first introduced antisepsis into surgical practice.
It is a measure o the signal importance he attached to this work that, as AMA delegate to the great 1876 International Medical Congress in Philadelphia he supplemented his brilliant demonstration of hip-joint excision (of which Joseph Lister exclaimed that "this demonstration would of itself have been a sufficient reward for my voyage across the Atlantic") by delivering a long paper "On the Deleterious Results of a Narrow Prepuce and Preputial Adhesion.
The Joseph Lister Award Lecture focuses on the social sciences, and will be delivered by Professor Fowler, who will present her talk: Climate change, extreme rainfall and flooding: what is happening to our weather?