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December 21, 1994

Childbed Fever: A Scientific Biography of Ignaz Semmelweis

Author Affiliations

Bluefield Regional Medical Center Bluefield, WVa

JAMA. 1994;272(23):1871-1872. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520230081049

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There is a mission hospital in Africa named "Ile Abiye," which means "A House Where Babies Are Born Alive." The name reflects the gratitude of a people who saw the wonder of modern medical aseptic techniques and antibiotics bring life to an area where mothers gave birth to children under high-risk conditions.

The Carters introduce Childbed Fever, their study of Dr Semmelweis and his times, by quoting from a senior physician of the 19th century who referred to "maternity clinics—birth houses, as they were called—[as] really houses of death." He stated that "the morgue is always full of corpses from the maternity wards, like fish on a slab."

This delightful, clearly written little book is not so much the biography of a man as the biography of a disease: puerperal fever. Before the book is over we realize that the disease is but one manifestation of the ubiquitous streptococcus.


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