But despite the fact that quarantining for the coronavirus pandemic has made the outside world feel like a strange apparition, you should still be washing your hands really, really well, even if you’re practicing social distancing as carefully as possible.
How do we know this, though?
It’s all thanks to Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician from the 19th century.
Semmelweis, widely-considered to be the first person to suggest that handwashing would prevent the spread of life-threatening germs, is being honored today with a Google Doodle recognizing the continued importance of his discovery.
The new Doodle, which will remain up for 48 hours, also outlines the World Health Organization’s guidelines for proper handwashing, which are crucial for curbing the spread of coronavirus. (You can also follow WHO’s advice for the public concerning COVID-19, the official term for the virus, here.)
But we only know about the importance of proper handwashing because on this day (173 years ago), Semmelweis was appointed Chief Resident within the maternity clinic in the Vienna General Hospital. There, he later found that making doctors wash their hands could reduce the amount of transmitted diseases, as referenced in a statement from Google sent to Mashable.
At the time, an infection, commonly called “childbed fever,” caused high mortality rates in maternity wards around Europe. Semmelweis, determined to discover the cause, launched an investigation at two maternity wards at his Vienna hospital, one staffed by doctors and medical students and one staffed by female midwives, as reported by NPR.
He found that new mothers in the clinic with doctors and medical students were dying at a much higher rate. After testing other theories, Semmelweis finally found the link: Medical staff at the clinic with the higher death rate were not washing their hands between patient examinations, thus transmitting infectious material from other operations to those in the maternity clinic.
Semmelweis instituted mandatory handwashing among the medical staff in the clinic, and infection rates plunged.
Back then, his findings were not widely heeded. That shouldn’t be the case now, with agreed-upon science behind the importance of handwashing in preventing infections and an increasingly urgent need for everyone to take proper measures in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
So, continue to follow guidelines from medical professionals, and do Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis a favor: Wash your hands.
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