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    Ignaz Semmelweis: A physician-hero

    History proves physicians should pursue the truth, even if it leads to challenging orthodoxy

    Recently, I had my photo taken with Ignaz Semmelweis. Not with the man himself, but with his statue. Although his is not a household name, the man is a physician-hero.

    Born in 1818 in the city of Buda, Hungary, Semmelweis became an obstetrician and worked in the First Obstetrical Clinic in Vienna, Austria. There were two clinics in Vienna General Hospital that alternated admitting pregnant women. Semmelweis observed that the clinic managed by physicians differed from the clinic run by midwives in the frequency of "childbed fever.” This condition—now known as puerperal fever—was much more common in the physician-run First Clinic than in the midwife-run Second Clinic. The disease had a high mortality rate, and the death rate of pregnant women in the First Clinic was about 10% to 20%, compared with 2% to 4% in the Second Clinic.

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    Semmelweis noted that physicians, not the midwives, examined patients at autopsy during the day, and he conjectured that something on the physicians' hands was responsible for causing the fevers and deaths. He experimented with having his doctors dip their hands into a solution of lime (calcium hydroxide) and showed that the rates of fever and death in the First Clinic quickly plummeted by 90% or more. He then ordered that the obstetrical instruments be immersed in the solution.

    As word of his innovation spread, Semmelweis expected that he would be congratulated and his intervention adopted broadly. Instead he was ignored, criticized, and ridiculed. Many physicians, of course, were angry that he made them look bad by pointing out the high complication rate of physicians relative to the midwives, while others noted that he had no satisfactory explanation for his findings (Louis Pasteur would not propose his germ theory of disease until decades later). He was forced out of his hospital in Vienna.

    Peter J. McDonnell, MD
    He is director of The Wilmer Eye Institute, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of ...

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      A physician hero being beaten to an early death in an insane asylum. I thought managed care was a modern invention? Have the OT team update your affiliation. Rick Hill
      I invite Dr. McDonell to attend a meeting of the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society and go into more detail about why Semmelwis's idea met such resistance at the time and what it says about innovation in medicine generally.[see http://www.cogansociety.org] Ron Fishman
    • Anonymous
      Too bad Dr. Semmelweiss wasnt around to keep in check the "whored" out ophthalmologists that Abbott, Alcon, B&L use to hawk their femto-laser and other products
    • Anonymous
      Dr Semmelweis would not be surprised to see that the same attitudes still prevail today and if he were alive today his fate would be the same. A good example of this is the American Medical Associations stance that GMO foods do not need to be labeled as such. Really? Why wouldn't you want your patients to know what is in their food? A little politics? Absolutely. After all it took the AMA 20+ years to figure out that smoking caused multiple health issues. Drug companies influencing "research based medicine? Who knew!
    • RonNajafi
      Hi, My name is Ron Najafi. I am the CEO of NovaBay Pharmaceuticals, also a chemist. Ignaz Semmelweis is my hero as well. I want to thank Dr. McDonell for reminding us all. Ignaz Semmelweis used: Calcium Hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite generates small, but potent, shelf UNSTABLE quantities of hypochlorous Acid which was the agent that was responsible in reducing the child bed fever. Hypochlorous acid also is naturally produced by white blood cell during the “oxidative Burst”. It has an incredibly broad spectrum antimicrobial activity with fast time kill, anti-toxin, anti-inflammatory, anti-lipase and anti-biofilm activity. Yet it is extremely well tolerated by human tissue in myriads of topical application. And it has extremely low potential of giving rise to resistance. Ignaz Semmelweis’s story is one that every physician and medical professional should be read and take lesson. It is story of making good observation and paying attention to minor details that can make all the difference between life and death. It is a story of keeping an open mind, being willing to go against the establishment and be a champion for what you believe in... In fact, we have dedicated the last 14 years at NovaBay Pharmaceuticals creating this wondrous molecule and are bringing it to the market for wound care and Ophthalmology. Our pure version of hypochlorous acid (Neutrox®) with 2+ years of shelf life, is now being marketed in Ophthalmology & Optometry for Blepharitis, Meibomian Gland Dysfunction and associated Dry Eye with our own recently formed Medical Sales representative, under the name: AVENOVA i-Lid Cleanser. We are seeing amazing results with AVENOVA and I am sure you will hear about it at the upcoming ARVO and other conferences. Please read Ignaz Semmelweis’s story and share it with your colleagues: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis For more information on NovaBay’s Avenova: www.avenova.com “no charge” clinical samples are available through AVENOVA website or calling our 800 number. Ron Najafi, Ph.D. Chairman & CEO NovaBay Pharmaceuticals I can be contacted via this link: http://novabay.com/contact-corporate-inquiries


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