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First, wash your hands

Health, Psychology, Technology, hygiene, medicine

GIVING birth was a dangerous endeavour in the 1800s; many women died soon after doing so. Ignaz Semmelweis, an obstetrician working at the time at Vienna General Hospital observed that by washing his hands with bleach before he touched his patients he could reduce their mortality rate by 90%. This was before Louis Pasteur established the germ theory of disease, and Semmelweis could not explain the correlation. After he published his findings, though, many of his colleagues were offended at the suggestion that they did not have clean hands. After all, doctors were gentlemen and as Charles Meigs, another obstetrician, put it, “a gentleman’s hands are clean”. Discouraged, Semmelweis slipped into depression and was eventually committed to a lunatic asylum. He died 14 days later, after being brutally beaten by the guards.

Hygiene in hospitals has come a long way since Semmelweis’s time. But there is still room for improvement. Every year nearly 100,000 people die in America alone from preventable infections acquired in hospitals. An invention devised by Paul Alper of Deb Group, a British skincare company, could help change this.

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