In wake of coronavirus pandemic, Google Doodle honours doctor who dies in asylum for championing hand washing

Google replaced its home page logo with a cartoon of Dr Semmelweis and a step-by-step short video of proper hand washing.
Google replaced its home page logo with a cartoon of Dr Semmelweis and a step-by-step short video of proper hand washing.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM GOOGLE.COM

SINGAPORE - A Hungarian doctor from the 19th century known as the "father of infection control" has been honoured on Friday (March 20) with a Google Doodle as the world ramps up efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"Today's Doodle recognises Hungarian physician Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, widely attributed as the first person to discover the medical benefits of handwashing," said Google, which replaced its home page logo with a cartoon of Dr Semmelweis and a step-by-step short video of proper hand washing.

Dr Semmelweis, who was appointed on this day in 1847 as chief resident of the maternity ward at the Vienna General Hospital in Austria, was puzzled by a mysterious infection known as "childbed fever" that was causing high mortality rates in new mothers in maternity wards across Europe.

He deduced that if doctors would wash their hands before handling their patients, far fewer women would die after childbirth. He also required all medical staff to wash their hands in between patient examinations which significantly lowered the infection rates in his division.

At the time, microbes were not widely recognised as vectors of disease, and many doctors ridiculed the notion that a lack of personal cleanliness could be responsible for their patients' deaths.

Ostracised by his colleagues, Dr Semmelweis was eventually committed to an asylum, where he was severely beaten by guards and died from infected wounds.

But his hygienic recommendations were later validated by the widespread acceptance of the "germ theory of disease" which states that microorganisms known as pathogens or "germs" can lead to disease.

"Today, Semmelweis is widely remembered as "the father of infection control", credited with revolutionising not just obstetrics, but the medical field itself, informing generations beyond his own that handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of diseases," said Google.

Google Doodle is a specially designed temporary logo on the search engine giant's home page to celebrate special events and commemorate famous figures. Past Doodle works include Singapore's National Day and French novelist Victor Hugo from the mid-19th century who wrote the phenomenal novel Les Miserables.