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Chapter 8 : Ignaz Semmelweis and the Control of Puerperal Sepsis

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Ignaz Semmelweis and the Control of Puerperal Sepsis, Page 1 of 2

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Abstract:

The institutional clustering of women in childbirth, usually poor women, in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries changed the frequency of puerperal sepsis. Ignaz Semmelweis tried to distinguish childbed fever from a contagious disease and stated that childbed fever is a transmissible, but not a contagious disease. Before one can fully understand Semmelweis's contribution to infectious disease, the control of puerperal sepsis, one has to have an appreciation of the history of the University of Vienna Hospital at the time Semmelweis began working there. The willingness to consider that medical personnel were in any way responsible for puerperal sepsis suggests some evolution in thinking towards an external cause of puerperal fever, even among the most conservative. In early 1847, Semmelweis observed that no epidemic of puerperal fever was evident outside the walls of the University of Vienna Hospital, in home deliveries by either midwives or private doctors. Even street births rarely had puerperal fever following delivery. Semmelweis’s theory suggested that physicians had been responsible for killing their patients. Infectious diseases in the 1840s were thought to strike people at random via miasma. Semmelweis was clear that there was no randomness or miasma involved. While he took great pains to distinguish childbed fever from a contagious disease such as smallpox, Semmelweis had actually bridged the gulf in 19th-century thought that distinguished between contagion and infection.

Citation: Gaynes R. 2011. Ignaz Semmelweis and the Control of Puerperal Sepsis, p 117-141. In Germ Theory. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817220.ch8

Key Concept Ranking

Infectious Diseases
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Skin Infections
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Citation: Gaynes R. 2011. Ignaz Semmelweis and the Control of Puerperal Sepsis, p 117-141. In Germ Theory. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817220.ch8
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Citation: Gaynes R. 2011. Ignaz Semmelweis and the Control of Puerperal Sepsis, p 117-141. In Germ Theory. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817220.ch8
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Maternal mortality, which was nearly all from puerperal sepsis, at the Vienna General Hospital, by division, 1841 to 1848. 10.1128/9781555817220.ch8.f1

Citation: Gaynes R. 2011. Ignaz Semmelweis and the Control of Puerperal Sepsis, p 117-141. In Germ Theory. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817220.ch8
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References

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1. Billroth, T. 1924. The Medical Sciences in the German Universities. Translated by W. H. Welch. MacMillan Co., New York, NY.
2. Buyse, M. 1997. A biostatistical tribute to Ignaz Philip Semmelweis. Statistics Med. 16:27672772.
3. Gordon, A. A. 1795. A Treatise on the Epidemic Puerperal Fever of Aberdeen. G. G. and, J. Robinson, London, United Kingdom.
4. Gould, I. M. 2010. Alexander Gordon, puerperal sepsis, and modern theories of infection control—Semmelweis in perspective. Lancet 10:275278.
5. Holmes, O. W. 1843. The contagiousness of puerperal fever. N. Engl. Q. J. Med. Surg.
6. Meigs, C. D. 1854. On the Nature, Signs and Treatment of Childbed Fever. In a series of Letters Addressed to Students of His Class. Blanchard and Lea, Philadelphia, PA. Original from Harvard University Countway Library (digitized 30 November 2007).
7. Morse, D. A. 1866. On contagion. Med. Surg. J. 15:529531.
8. Nuland, S. B. 2004. The Doctors’ Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignác Semmelweis, p. 3156. W. W. Norton, New York, NY.
9. Parsons, G. P. 1997. Puerperal fever, anticontagionists, and miasmatic infection, 1840–1860: toward a new history of puerperal fever in antebellum America. J. History Med. 52:424452.
10. Risse, G. B. 1999. Mending Bodies, Saving Souls. A History of Hospitals, p. 117165. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.
11. Semmelweis, I. 1861. The Etiology, the Concept, and the Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever. Translated by F. P. Murphy, 1981. Classics of Medicine Library, Birmingham, AL.

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