She and her colleagues conducted a 10-year retrospective review of refractory puerperal fever
cases at Chaim Sheba Medical Center.
Although the prevailing theory at the time was that each case of puerperal fever
was caused by different and unrelated illness, Semmelweis believed that there was only one cause and that by practicing proper hygiene many of these deaths could be prevented.
For instance, paste of roots of Elephantopus scaber and Allium sativum cloves was administered for three consecutive days in the morning on an empty stomach as treatment for puerperal fever
. For treatment of fever, bark of Oroxylum indicum was boiled in water along with leaves of Averrhoa bilimbi, leaves of Swertia chirayita, leaves of Ziziphus mauritiana, leaves of chana pata (unidentified), and leaves of Phyllanthus emblica.
Semmelweis: the combat against puerperal fever
. Eur J Obst Gynecol & Repr Biol 2000; 90: 153-158.
The attempt to understand puerperal fever
in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: the influence of inflammation theory.
A combination of the plants, Alstonia scholaris, Aegle marmelos, Moringa oleifera, and Azadirachta indica was used for treatment of diverse ailments like puerperal fever
, pain or jaundice.
Similarly, supported by doctors' telephonic advice, most women with puerperal fever
and about half of those with abortion complications could be managed locally.
"In 1847, at the age of 28, the Viennese obstetrician Ignac Semmelweis famously deduced that by not washing hands, doctors were themselves to blame for childbed fever, also known as puerperal fever
. Stopping the problem was not a problem of ignorance, it was and is today a problem of compliance."
She reminded my mother that when she had had puerperal fever
after giving birth to me, my former mother-in-law breast-fed me and that my marriage to her son was thus forbidden," she said.
Semmelweis went back 100 years to find out why there was such an increase in puerperal fever
(childbed fever) that had killed thousands of mothers in obstetric units.
I was fascinated by Rebecca Abrams's article about Alexander Gordon ('A Prophet in his Own Country', August 2008), the Aberdonian doctor who studied puerperal fever
which killed so many mothers at childbirth.
As I write this I cannot help but think of the late Hungarian physician, Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, who in the 1800s showed that the high rate of maternal deaths due to puerperal fever
could be decreased with a simple change in practice: requiring physicians and other caregivers delivering babies to wash their hands before tending to the mothers.
She was only 25 when Mrs Beeton's Book Of Household Management was published and 28 when she died of puerperal fever
, contracted after giving birth to her fourth child.
The book appears, upon first reading, to be overly Whiggish in approach, focusing on the emergence of germ theory in the history of puerperal fever
perhaps to the detriment of other important areas, such as medical theories not relating to contagion.
A thesis toward the medical degree, Semmelweis is in fact a short biography of Philippe-Ignace Semmelweis, the Hungarian physician who, some fifty years before Louis Pasteur discovered the existence and the danger of bacteria, realized that the deadly puerperal fever
that frequently infected mothers delivering babies was caused by doctors who failed to disinfect their hands.