Amid Covid-19 scare, Google doodles doctor who first spoke about the virtue of handwashing

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on March 20, 2020

Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, Google on Friday dedicated its Doodle to Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, the first person to prove that hand washing can be life saving.

“In light of the global COVID-19 outbreak, today’s #GoogleDoodle recognizes Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, widely known as the first person to suggest the life-saving benefits of handwashing,” Google tweeted from its official Google Doodle account.

It had also linked the post to a video depicting the World Health Organization’s recommended techniques for handwashing as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus.

As the story goes, Semmelweis realised the importance of hand washing while pondering upon maternal mortality due to child-bed fever at Vienna General. In the 1800s, he noticed that the mortality rate for a hospital ward where doctors delivered children was 10 per cent while that in the ward managed by midwives was 4 per cent as “childbed fever” was the result of bacterial infections. At the time, Semmelweis knew that it was killing about 10 per cent of the patients in one ward of his clinic but only around 4 per cent in the other ward, as detailed in a Forbes report.

He then found out that the midwives had been frequently washing their hands with a chemical similar to liquid bleach while the doctors had been tending to patients without washings their hands which were bloody from the previous patients.

It was known years after Semmelweis’ discovery of the benefits of hand washing that the mortality rate was due to bacterial infection which was spread from one patient to another due to unwashed hands. Simultaneously, Semmelweis, after the death of his dear friend Jakob Kolletschka put two and two together when he found that Kolletschka had been walking a group of medical students when he was accidentally jabbed with a dirty scalpel.

Semmelweis realised that some kind of contamination in Kolletschka’s bloodstream from the scalpel must have made him sick which resulted in his death. Semmelweis had then ordered the doctors to start washing their hands, post which the mortality rate had dropped to 2.2 per cent.

With the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, experts including the World Health Organization have been aggressively urging people to wash their hands as a precaution with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to keep the virus at bay. Over 2,00,00 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide.

Published on March 20, 2020

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