Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis
Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818–1865) was a Hungarian physician. He discovered that simple antiseptic procedures (such as handwashing) could markedly reduce the occurrence of puerperal fever and save mothers’ lives. Semmelweis worked at two obstetric clinics and found that they had markedly different maternal mortality rates. He studied both clinics to discover what could account for the difference; however, the only thing he could find was that one of the clinics was for trainee midwives and the other for medical students. Then a friend of Semmelweis, Jakob Kolletschka, died of sepsis after being cut by a medical student’s scalpel during an autopsy. Semmelweis quickly made the link – medical students were infecting pregnant women with material from the autopsies (midwives did not attend autopsies). He introduced strict handwashing, and mortality rates fell dramatically.