The hands are the fastest mode of transportation for disease-causing bacteria and viruses. That’s because people use their hands for everything—holding objects, eating, making meals, changing nappies, making contact with others… the list goes on. In the course of one day, a regular person comes in contact with millions of microorganisms and transfers them to objects, surfaces, and other people, barely noticing that any “transportation” has taken place.
The first time hands were made liable for the spread of infection was way back in 1846 when Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis noticed that women who gave birth with the assistance of students and physicians at the General Hospital of Vienna’s First Clinic had a higher mortality rate than those who were assisted by the midwives in the Second Clinic. It happened that the physicians and students also worked in the autopsy suite, and that, even after washing their hands with soap and water, a disagreeable odor stuck to them as they switched rooms and helped out the women in labor.
Because microbiology had yet to be understood at the time, Semmelweis referred to this odor as “cadaverous particles,” but could not explain their cause. His solution, which aimed at removing odor from the hands, required the students and physicians to douse their hands with a disinfectant chlorine solution whenever they would leave the autopsy room. The ruling immediately reaped the desired effects, and maternal mortality rate in the First Clinic dramatically went down (and stayed down).
Today, people still reap the benefits of Semmelweis’ simple observation. Various cleanliness protocols implemented in all healthcare institutions make hospitalization a lot less risky, although hospital-contracted infections still do occur from time to time.
Hand Hygiene on the Go