Joseph Lister

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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