It was the year 1846, and women admitted to the maternity clinic of Vienna General Hospital were inexplicably dying during childbirth. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a new addition to the maternity clinic, was disturbed by the high mortality rate of patients and was determined to find the cause. After a number of experiments and observations, Dr. Semmelweis changed the course of healthcare with one simple discovery: Washing hands saved lives.
“Most of those dying had been treated by student physicians who worked on cadavers during an anatomy class before beginning their rounds in the maternity ward.” explained Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of CDC’s Hospital Infections Program in a published article by the CDC. “Most of those dying had been treated by student physicians who worked on cadavers during an anatomy class before beginning their rounds in the maternity ward.”
She explained that because the students didn’t wash their hands between touching the dead and the living, pathogenic bacteria from the cadavers were transmitted to the mothers by the students’ hands.
Though Dr. Semmelweis’ findings were conclusive and remain one of the most important contributions to public health, most of his colleagues were resistant to changing their habits. Even now, you may come across a physician who has to be reminded to wash his or her hands before treating a new patient.
In an article published by usanews.com, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported approximately 75,000 people in the United States die from hospital-acquired infections each year. Despite the healthcare industry being fully aware of the importance of cleanliness, many of today’s hospitals struggle with outbreaks of two common bacteria, Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. In fact, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey, only 6 percent of hospitals scored well against these two bacteria.
What is the number one preventative way to control the spread of these bacteria? You guessed it. Wash your hands. The report also referred to the cause of bacteria spread being attributed to the overuse of antibiotics and inadequate disinfection practices.
“We encourage both staff and patients to regularly wash their hands.” said Mark Walker, director of therapy for Orem Rehab and Skilled Nursing. “We stress to our staff to wash hands between treating patients and keep our equipment clean. When it comes to washing hands, more often is better.”
So if you are looking for a way to better combat the flu season or other diseases that lurk in the chilly corners of the germ-riddled winter months, these three magic words will be your best defense: Wash your hands.