A paper on the creation of an era on the importance of hand washing is going to auction Manuscripts and letters

After the last year, hand washing is anything but novelty. But the Hungarian doctoral “era” – and the controversial one – is announcing the importance of clean hands.

Ignaz Semmelweis was a young housekeeper at the first obstetric clinic in the teaching unit of the General Hospital in Vienna. In 1847, he noticed that in one of the hospital maternity hospitals there was an extremely high mortality rate of mothers and newborns – about 13% – while in the others the mortality rate was only 2%. The first clinic was used as a teaching tool for medical students, while the second was used to teach midwives. Semmelweis concluded that medical students transmit infections from autopsy rooms to delivery rooms and encouraged a policy of strict hand washing using chlorinated lime water. The death rate has since dropped dramatically, to around 1%.

The first issue of the journal of the Society of Viennese Doctors. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2021

Semmelweis gave a lecture on his discovery, The Origin of Puerperal Fever, in 1849. His colleague Ferdinand von Hebra published details of Semmelweis’ discovery in the journal of the Society of Viennese Doctors the following year, comparing it in importance to the discovery of smallpox. vaccine and persuading others in the medical community to introduce their own hand washing procedures. The first issue of the magazine will be auctioned off by Christie’s next week, with a suggested retail price of £ 12,000 to £ 18,000.

Semmelweis’ ideas met with resistance for the rest of his life. He eventually lost his job and died in a psychiatric institution at the age of 47 in 1865. His story was sold by Louis-Ferdinand Céline in his book Semmelweis: A Fictional Biography. And last year, actor Mark Rylance planned to take his life on stage, until Covid got in his way.

On the eve of the auction, Christie’s called Semmelweis’ discovery “the creation of an era” and “one of the greatest achievements in the history of medicine.”

“Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis’ discovery about the role of hand washing in preventing the spread of the disease is now undisputed, but his methods were rejected and ridiculed at the time, ”Christie’s expert Mark Wiltshire said. “His genius was in noticing what no one else had done.”

A letter from Edward Jenner from 1801, in which he apologizes for the delay in the delivery of his new smallpox vaccine.
A letter from Edward Jenner from 1801, in which he apologizes for the delay in the delivery of his new smallpox vaccine. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2021

Christie’s will also find at auction a letter from Edward Jenner, the English surgeon who discovered the smallpox vaccine, with a suggested retail price of £ 4,000 to £ 6,000. In the letter, Jenner apologizes to one Mr. Long – who is probably William Long, a doctor in London – for the delay in delivering his new vaccine.

“Dr. Jenner sends his compliments to Mr. Long and is sorry that he is not able to send him any vaccine he can rely on today, but Mr. Long can be sure that he will be sent as soon as possible,” Jenner wrote in a letter from In 1801, adding, “Dr. J is happy to have found that his little patient passed through the cows so pleasantly.”

Five years earlier, Jenner had noticed that dairy cows who had contracted cowpox were immune to deadly smallpox. On May 14, 1796, he scratched the liquid from the cowpox blister into the hand of his gardener’s son, and shortly afterwards injected it into the smallpox. No disease developed, and Jenner continued with further investigations, including of his 11-month-old son, announcing details of his discovery two years later.

Wiltshire said two documents, particularly Jenner’s apology for delays in vaccine delivery, “feel particularly familiar at the moment.”

“These books and manuscripts are incredibly relevant to today’s international situation – they lead us to the roots of the discoveries that are key to the battle against Covid-19,” he said. “In any case, these discoveries are based on the extraordinary perception and decisive application of the scientific method. Given their importance to the global battle against Covid-19, the giant leaps made by Dr. Jenner and Dr. Semmelweis now seem greater than ever. “