Megan Williams
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Jun, 12

A Brief History of the inclusion of cleanliness and hand hygiene in healthcare

Today, a majority of people in the West have gotten use to the fact that there hospitals are normally clean and extremely safe and hygienic.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about numerous hospitals around the globe, especially those built in rural posts in developing countries. It’s no surprise that one will occasionally here of serious outbreaks taking place in these said areas, resulting in multiple casualties before foreign aid has to step in to avert a major catastrophe and avert the situation.

Surprisingly, from time immemorial, hygiene was never an integral part of a hospital; and it’s only until the 19th Century that health specialists took up an active battle against unhygienic situations after innovators and chemists such as Louis Pasteur emphasized the importance of Aseptic strategies and having an Aseptic Technique Lab in place to handle any issues regarding bacterial and fungus infections.

The first hospitals

The first hospitals are believed to have been started in Sri Lanka around 431 BC, with the Indians soon following with their hospitals around 231BC.

So serious was the health issue during ancient times that ancient Israelis used to quarantine the sick as a normal measure to ensure that breakouts did not affect the whole populous. Things only took a turn for the worst for the sickly in ancient Babylon, as they were laid put on the roads, whereby passersby offered instructions to the sickly on how they could potentially cure their ailments!

It wasn’t until the Roman times that cleanliness was really put into perspective when it came to healthcare. Aulus Cornelius Celcus of Rome was one of the pioneer advocates in Rome to promote cleanliness, as well as the practice of wound-washing with thyme oil and vinegar before having it treated. Other antiseptic ingredients in ancient times were thought to be the likes of mercury, copper, and silver.

Breakthroughs in antiseptic substances came in the 1840s, thanks to the industrial revolution that brought forth the likes of chloroform, ether, that were then utilized during surgery.

Hand hygiene

The importance of hand hygiene was also further emphasized during the 19th Century after hospital structurers were erected and recognized as hospitals for the first time in history.

So how did handwashing become a norm in hospitals? Well, thanks to childbirth. A doctor by the name Ignaz Semmelweis who was at a hospital in Hungarian Vienna, noticed that expectant mothers had a morbid fear of being brought to term by students from the medical faculty as compared to midwifes. That’s because the mortality rate of their children from childbed fever was extremely high when they were brought to term by these students.

Dr. Ignaz discovered the reason behind this to be that students did not wash their hands after dissecting dead bodies at the morgue. Thus, passing the pathogens from the dead bodies onto the children. He then advised them to consistently wash their hands before labor, and as expected, childbed fever mortality rates went from 22% to 0% for the first time in history.

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