Semmelweis' discovery and its Finnish follow-up.

O. Hänninen, Mária Faragó, E. Monos

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Professor Ignác Semmelweis (1818-1865) is one of the great personalities of medical history. He insisted on washing hands with chlorine water before any obstetrical intervention, he was the first to demonstrate its importance in preventing puerperal fever. Thus, the principle of asepsis was introduced prior to the discovery of bacteria and bacterial diseases. Semmelweis carefully documented his findings and in this way pioneered the scientific analysis of clinical data Medical community of that time misinterpreted Semmelweis' great ideas, he died abandoned and forgotten. A Finnish doctor Josef Adam Joachim Pippingsköld was one of the first obstetricians who had realized the importance of Semmelweis' work. In 1861, in his letter to Semmelweis he reported about his own findings and favorable results in prevention of puerperal fever in Helsinki. Two decades earlier, Dr. Ehrström in the University of Helsinki had submitted his thesis on pathophysiology of puerperal fever that was similar to the ideas of Semmelweis. Long before modern times in Finland, mothers traditionally had their babies delivered in smoke saunas, where heating and smoke of bactericidal phenols created a clean, rather aseptic environment. Hand washing was self-evident necessity. However, the situation was quite different in the Central European universities and departments of obstetrics, where the medical training and clinical practice took place side by side. Semmelweis' life and his contribution to medicine was appreciated even in the theatrical circles of Finland. The piece "Semmelweis" of Norwegian playwright Jens Bjørneboe got its World Premier in the Swedish Theatre in Turku, former capital of Finland, in September 1969.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-95
Number of pages13
JournalActa physiologica Hungarica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2003


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology (medical)

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