History shows that in the mid-nineteenth century, many-many women died in childbirth if they had to go for a hospital birth with a difficult delivery. Indeed, the mortality rate from childbed fever under a doctor, fluctuated wildly, but could be as high as thirty-five percent (three times that on a midwife ward).
Something was wrong, so the women paid with their lives didn’t they? Women were scared stiff of going to hospital for the birth of a child – and rightly so. If they could, they would even have a street birth to avoid it – many less women died there.
The basic problem emanated from the fact that doctors, often in training, had been working dissecting dead bodies, some of the deaths having resulting from disease, before coming to the ward – so their hands simply transferred bacteria to their vulnerable patients during childbirth, killing them.
More than a hundred and seventy years ago at the Vienna hospital, a Hungarian obstetrics doctor you have probably never heard of Ignaz Semmelweis, investigated various possibilities, and then suspected that was something to do with cadaverous particles on doctors’ hands. He found that disinfection of the hands brought about a drastic reduction in deaths – he used a chlorinated lime solution, and that was the start of modern hygiene (and it was some quarter of a century before his work was scientifically confirmed by the famous Pasteur and Lister). Despite increasing evidence of the success of his procedure, it was against the medical opinions of the time and other physicians (particularly British) were aghast and outraged at the implication that the problem was anything to do with them, like carrying infection to the mothers. Semmelweis was extremely frustrated and incensed at what he saw as irresponsible murder by the disbelieving – so they committed him to the funny farm, where he was beaten and died a couple of weeks later. Some reward, eh?
Then we get to today after over a century later, when we in Britain all know (or should) that the washing of the hands is a precursor to decease prevention – it is something that we do in our homes and when we go to public bathrooms, particularly before we eat (and we train our children to do that also). Unbelievably, some cretins go to bathrooms in hotels, clubs and pubs or other public conveniences in the street, go to the toilet and walk out without washing their hands, ignoring the numerous signs that say “NOW WASH YOUR HANDS”. Men are the disgusting culprits here, and the irony is that they are most likely to have bacteria on their hands, as they have to handle their genitals to urinate, aren’t they?
Apart from the fact that these morons can cause themselves an infection or food poisoning or suffer diarrhea, the worst thing though is that they are also putting others’ health at the same risk (particularly children who are the most vulnerable). The germs clinging to their hands will contaminate things they touch – not least even the door handle of the loo they leave, and so possibly infect the unsuspecting people, who do wash their hands and leave.
Most people in this country who wash their hands do so with water and soap, as widely recommended by health professionals. Nevertheless, washing hands with water alone is very-very effective in removing most harmful germs (but all hand washing needs to be done thoroughly of course by vigorously rubbing hands together for as long as feasible, or nothing will kill-off the bugs – surgeons themselves ‘scrub-up’, don’t they?). Using soap has only a marginal effect, but people should use it if readily available, but it MUST be properly looked after so that it itself doesn’t become infested with bugs, which simply will be transferred to the hands (antibacterial soap is a benefit when used liberally), so actually increasing rather than reducing the risk. Using soap is therefore not the be-and-end-all of hand washing, and that is good news for the many countries in the World that don’t have much access to soap, isn’t it? But they have to be further educated to do it – particularly those preparing food. There is absolutely no excuse though for people resident in the UK, particularly as unlimited clean water is readily available here.
[We can’t legislate for some people’s stupidity on hand washing, so it is a matter of further education and practice, isn’t it?]