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Qual Saf Health Care 13:233-234 doi:10.1136/qshc.2004.010918
  • Heroes and martyrs of quality and safety

Ignaz Semmelweis and the birth of infection control

  1. M Best,
  2. D Neuhauser
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Case School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor D Neuhauser
 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Case School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106-4945, USA; dvncase.edu

    Worldwide, sepsis is the cause of death in about 1400 people each day.1 Many of these people develop sepsis from infections acquired as patients while in a hospital. Infections acquired in the hospital are called nosocomial infections. They are the most common complications of hospitalized patients, with 5–10% of patients in acute care hospitals acquiring at least one infection. Nosocomial infections occur in 2 million patients per year in the United States, causing 90 000 deaths and resulting in $4.5–5.7 billion in additional patient care costs.2

    INFECTION CONTROL

    Influenza virus, Legionnaires’ disease, bacterial meningitis, measles, West Nile virus, tularemia, hepatitis A, rotavirus, Norwalk virus, multidrug resistant Pseudomonas, super-resistant Klebsiella, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and vancomycin resistant Enterococcus are just a few of the infectious organisms and diseases that may be contracted while in hospital. Infection control is essential to limit the spread of these diseases. Cross-infection of patients by the contaminated hands of healthcare workers is a major method of spreading infectious agents. Hand hygiene is noted to be the single most important factor for infection control. Even today, hand washing is performed only one third to one half as often as it should be.3

    IGNAZ SEMMELWEIS (1818–1865)

    Known as the “father of infection control”, Dr Ignaz (or Ignac) Semmelweis (fig 1) was a Hungarian born physician who received his MD degree in Vienna in 1844. In 1847 he was given a 2 year appointment …