Charles White (1728-1813) of Manchester emphasized the importance of cleanliness in obstetrical practice while Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), in a paper On the Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever in 1843, argued that women in labor should not be treated by a doctor who had recently conducted an autopsy or how had treated a patient with puerperal fever.
Germ-theory first came to the attention of medical practitioners in the controversies over antiseptic surgery that began in Britain in the late 1860s. Joseph Lister accepted Louis Pasteur’s notion that microorganisms were involved in suppuration and began developing the elements of antiseptic wound management in 1865.
As early as 1874, Pasteur had suggested placing the instruments in boiling water and passing them through a flame; heat sterilization of instruments was accepted by Robert Koch in 1881.
Primed with the science of bacteriology and knowledge of Pasteur and Koch’s laboratory autoclaves surgical heat sterilization emerged in France and Germany between 1883 and 1893.
Neuber of Kiel was probably the first to autoclave operating gowns in 1883 and then advocate sterile caps and rubber shows in 1886.
In 1867, Lister published Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Medicine. Within five years, surgeons using Lister’s antiseptic techniques were able to reduce the surgical mortality rate from nearly 60 percent all the way down to 4 percent. By the time Lister retired in 1892, antiseptic surgery had established itself.
Antiseptic practice in surgery