puerperal sepsis

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A formerly lethal septicemia that occurs when infection is introduced into the uterus by the birth attendant. It was epidemic from the 18th to the late 19th century in western Europe and the United States, when childbirth was conducted by obstetricians who did not wash their hands before performing obstetric maneuvers. In Boston, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894) and in Vienna, Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818–1865) independently discovered that it could be prevented by hand-washing. Semmelweis published a detailed statistical analysis to prove his point. Unfortunately, their peers rejected the findings and advice, and another generation of parturient women fell victim to puerperal sepsis before Joseph Lister introduced antisepsis into surgery in 1865, and the method was adopted also in obstetrics.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology.

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