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Pernicious Anaemia Society
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History Repeating Itself - Ignaz Semmelweis

I've read about this chap before and his story not only makes my heart bleed but it goes to show one thing - some things never change and doctors are as arrogant and stupid now as they were back in the 1800s.

I'm not going to go through specific details, but Semmelweis was a doctor. He noted that pregnant women who got infections did so when they were touched with dirty hands. He started washing his hands and made his staff do the same. Illness and mortality dropped to virtually zero.

He tried for many years to get his peers to do the same thing. But, guess what, because he couldn't 'prove' why it worked they wouldn't do it. They just kept on letting their female patients die.

In the end Semmelweis was committed to a lunatic asylum. Only 14 days later the guards beat him to death. He was only 47 years old.

Later that century, after Pasteur 'proved' his germ theory, the washing of hands became compulsory. Semmelweis had been right.

See, the 'knobs' as Hillwoman puts it, are still in existence today. Much better to let the patients and even doctors die, rather than admit they had been getting something wrong.

I think the lunatics really are in charge of the asylum.

Edited to add - just found this about something now known as the Semmelweis Reflex - ""Mob behavior found among primates and larval hominids on undeveloped planets, in which a discovery of important scientific fact is punished"

That's from the book The Game of Life by Timothy Leary. Quite possibly worth reading ;-)

5 Replies

Wow! That just made me feel better about the over-whelming lack of faith I have in my GP.

Maybe it's not me that's the crazy one!

Thanks for sharing 👍


How long did it take for the medical profession (in the UK, at least) to take one step further from Semmelweis and start wearing short-sleeved clothing to avoid passing on infections? So far as I am aware, it was was external pressure in the light of hospital-acquired infections that finally drove this change. Rumour has it that they wash their hands regularly as well. :-)

Also, there has recently been a story that hospital staff (who are responsible for uniform washing) are using too low a wash temperature which is failing to kill the bugs.


There was a fuss about doctor's ties too, wasn't there? Some years back now. They reckoned doctor's ties were coming into contact with infections and, of course, ties are never washed. I think ties are either frowned on now in hospitals or banned outright. I forget what was ultimately decided. I know when I was in hospital you never saw them on the surgeons; all open-necked shirts.

But H. Pylori provides another example of this 'killing the wisdom' and shows how much fashion and herd-following is in medicine. When Barry Marshall discovered his H. Pylori theory of ulcer creation everybody thought he was a lunatic and he was openly ridiculed. Here's Wikipedia on the subject:

"In 1982, they performed the initial culture of H. pylori and developed their hypothesis related to the bacterial cause of peptic ulcer and gastric cancer.[2] It has been claimed that the H. pylori theory was ridiculed by the establishment scientists and doctors, who did not believe that any bacteria could live in the acidic environment of the stomach. Marshall has been quoted as saying in 1998 that "(e)veryone was against me, but I knew I was right."[5] On the other hand, it has also been argued that medical researchers showed a proper degree of scientific scepticism until the H. pylori hypothesis could be supported by evidence"

So 16 years after he made the breakthrough he was STILL being ridiculed, but you'll note that NOW they are claiming it was just "scientific scepticism".

Once he got his Nobel prize, some years later, everybody rushed to adopt his theory and started nuking H. Pylori right, left and centre. And it's only now, in 2015, that some doctors and scientists are questioning HIS theory, but you'll note that anywhere you go they are still trotting out the 'fact' that H. Pylori causes ulcers when there is a whole heap of proof to show that's not the whole picture, since a huge proportion of the world is infected with the bacteria but is not showing ulcer symptoms, and never will. So nuking your H. Pylori may be doing more harm than good. But they keep on testing and keep on killing when they KNOW that they may well be doing the wrong thing and doing more harm than good.

Doctors seem to be so entrenched that questioning anything gives them apoplexy. You'd think the pursuit of truth would be the thing that matters, but it very much isn't. And they have the cheek to call that "scientific scepticism". If only it was, we'd all be better off.


It was one of the reasons that some doctors wore bow ties. Mind, some probably thought it sent some message to others - whether patients,colleagues or underlings, I'm not entirely sure. :-)


Yeah, I know there was a BIG furore over the tie thing. A lot of doctors felt that not being able to wear ties would lower their standing in patients' eyes and no-one would be able to tell the doctors from the patients. Seriously. They felt it would undermine their authority. That's probably what the bow tie was about; a desperate hanging on to authority. You do have to wonder a) how many patients judge the quality of their doctor on his tie and b) how sad a man's ego has to be that he thinks his training and value as a doctor is not as important as a piece of cloth tied round his neck.


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