We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know: Ignaz Semmelweis

Washing hands.

Sometimes in life, science and the subsequent proof we seek lag far behind validating research (this begs a whole other discussion on funding of such today).  In support of my concerns about the dangers of fluoride and how we don’t know what we don’t know, I would like to share the tragic but compelling story of Ignaz Semmelweis.

Hungarian born medical doctor Ignaz Semmelweis began his professional career working in a maternity ward of the General Hospital of Vienna in 1846.  In an attempt to discover the cause and hopeful eradication of Peurperal Fever – commonly known then as Childbed Fever – Semmelweis began to collect data from two maternity wards within the hospital.

Interestingly, of the two wards Semelweiss chose, one was manned by male physicians and medical students and the other by female midwifes!  Can you see a pattern here?

When Semmelweis crunched the numbers, he discovered that women in the clinic staffed by male doctors and medical students died at a rate nearly five times higher than women in the female-staffed midwives’ clinic.

Semmelweis began studying all the differences between the two clinics, of which there were many.  The biggest difference he found was that the physicians and medical students were performing autopsies and the midwifes weren’t.

Semelweiss hypothesized that something was being transferred from the cadavers the doctors and students were studying to the women in the maternity ward who would also contract the disease and then die.

It is important to note here that the germ theory of disease had not yet been discovered and would not for another 20 years by Louis Pasteur who was also looking at Peurperal fever in his research.

Based on his common sense assumption that something was being transferred from the corpses, Semelweiss then had all of his staff begin to wash their hands and instruments with Chlorine.  The history books tell us that this was more to get rid of the smell of putrefying flesh.

The result: The rates of Childbed Fever dropped drastically!

One would expect a huge celebration of this discovery but such was not the case.  The doctors took it personally; it made them appear to be the cause of the disease and Semelweiss’ manner of enforcing the cleaning protocol offended them as well.

Instead, Semelweiss ended up losing his job and the hospital gave up the chlorine hand-washing with disease rates returning to their previous numbers.

Try as he might, the good doctor could convince no others of the importance of handwashing and he ended up in and insane asylum where it is reported that he was beaten to death.

It is tragic to me, that the protection of turf and personal interests outweighed the pursuit of truth and the wellbeing of the public; the Hippocratic Oath was not respected here!

We have not come very far if we still cannot acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know but even more of a travesty is that we don’t even care to find out!

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Until next time,


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