Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis

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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).

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.)


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