Handwashing From The Morgue

Handwashing Tips Learned in 1840's in the Morgue!

Hundreds of studies confirming the benefits of handwashing have been publicized. In the 1840’s Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was an assistant in the maternity wards of a Vienna hospital. He noted that the mortality rate in the delivery room staffed by medical students was three times higher than another delivery room staffed by midwives.

He also observed that the medical students were working on cadavers in another room and then going directly to the delivery room. He reasoned that the medical students leaving the autopsy room were infecting the birthing mothers causing the spread of disease.

Doctor Semmelweis then ordered all personnel to wash their hands in a chlorinated solution before examining women in labor. The results were astounding with a drop in mortality to less than one percent. Even though this test proved the importance of handwashing, the doctors remained skeptical.

Doctor Semmelweis moved on to another hospital and experienced similar success with his handwashing program. It is considered ironic today that Doctor Semelweis died from an infection caused from Streptococcus pyogenes, one of the germs controlled by handwashing!

Hand to Mouth Infection

How many times do people wipe their mouths with their hands? How many times to people place their fingers in their mouths to take out gum or to dislodge something stuck in their teeth? What about all that “finger food we all love eat?”

What microbes are on our hands when they touch our mouths? Let’s give you and idea of what could be happening.

Every hand you shake, every hand rail you touch, every door knob, every light switch, every counter top, every dog you pet…simply everything you touch can place dangerous germs on your hands. Maybe a flu bug, a cold, or a case of diarrhea won’t kill you, but even these diseases can be life threatening to some people. It is not just about you, it’s about all those people around you.

Anti-Biotic Resistant Strains of Germs

Does all this talk about the importance of handwashing sound exaggerated? Consider the person with anti-biotic resistant staff infection found working on Meals on Wheels recently in upstate NY! A great panic resulted with the only hope in this dire situation was “handwashing.”

“If he is a handwasher”, the doctor said, “we are in OK shape.” Staphylococcus aureus is a germ to worry about. If he weren’t a handwasher, what a terrible threat to all those recipients of the Meals on Wheels! Let’s hope that the man was a handwasher!

The importance of handwashing can be assessed by looking at a list of germs found on human hands. Here are a few:

  • Shigella flexneri…causes vomiting, headache, diarrhea
  • Streptococcus pyrogens…causes tonsilitis, sore throats, scarlet fever,impetigo
  • Salmonella … causes severe diarrhea, stomach pain, dizzyness, fever
  • Rhino virus…over 200 strains causing great misery in the form of colds
  • Proteus vulgaris…urinary tract infextions
  • Hepatitis A…vomiting, liver disorders, jaundice
  • Escherichia coli 0157 …kidney failure, uncontrollable fever, death
  • Rotavirus …55,000 children hopitalized with this each year
  • Echovirus…meningitis, encephalitis, neonatal sepsis, myocarditis, and chronic infection
  • Coxsackie virus…sore throat, abdominal discomfort, or nausea