Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Monday, March 6, 2000
Contact: CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 639–3286

Why is handwashing important?

Remember Ignaz Semmelweis? Of course you don't. But you're in his debt nonetheless, because it was Dr. Semmelweis who first demonstrated over a hundred years ago that routine handwashing can prevent the spread of disease.

"Dr. Semmelweis worked in a hospital in Vienna whose maternity patients were dying at such an alarming rate that they begged to be sent home," said Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of CDC's Hospital Infections Program. "Most of those dying had been treated by student physicians who worked on cadavers during an anatomy class before beginning their rounds in the maternity ward."

Because the students didn't wash their hands between touching the dead and the living--handwashing was an unrecognized hygienic practice at the time--pathogenic bacteria from the cadavers regularly were transmitted to the mothers via the students' hands.

"The result was a death rate five times higher for mothers who delivered in the hospital than for mothers who delivered at home" said Dr. Gerberding.


This week is Hand Washing Awareness Week, a timely reminder--before flu season reaches its peak--that regular hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease. Visit FirstGov.gov’s link to the Centers for Disease Control to find out how this hygienic practice gained recognition during the 19th century and to learn five common household scenarios in which contaminated hands transmit disease-causing germs.



You’d think a country like ours could do better than tell us to wash our hands ..... and save more than a few lives in the bargain!

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