Doctors Didn't Always Wash Their Hands
Before the 20th century, medical professionals rarely washed their hands before treating patients, performing surgery or delivering babies. The result: Lots of pass-along germs resulting in serious infections and higher mortality rates.
If doctors had just listened to a few of their peers who sounded the alarm in the mid-1800s. Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was the first doctor to show that hand washing could reduce infection. In 1847 Semmelwies noticed that birth mothers attended by midwives had a lower incidence of puerperal fever than those seen by physicians, who often performed autopsies before delivering babies.
But Semmelweis, who was ignored by obstetricians, wasn't the first to suggest the connection between unclean hands and the disease. Thomas Watson, a London physician warned of the connection in 1842 as did Oliver Wendell Holmes, head of Harvard's medical school, in 1843.
In 1879, Louis Pasteur, using his germ theory of disease, demonstrated that streptococcal bacteria was present in the blood of women with puerperal fever.