MONTREAL -- Have you ever heard of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis? Probably not, but in this age of COVID-19, he could be one of the most important historical figures to know about right now.

Today's Google Doodle is all about recognizing the Hungarian physician and scientist, now believed to be an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures.

The 50-second video shows a cartoon of Semmelweis holding a stopwatch as a pair of hands lathers up with soap and water -- all part of the reminder to keep your hands clean to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19.

For those who are curious, Semmelweis is known as the “saviour of mothers” after discovering that the use of hand disinfectants in obstetrical clinics could drastically reduce fatalities associated with puerperal fever, or ‘childbed fever’ -- something that was common in the mid-19th century.

His simple solution? Wash your hands with chlorinated lime solution and the rate of mortality is reduced to less than one per cent.

His findings, published in 1861 as a book entitled ‘Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever,’ were resoundingly rejected by the medical community at the time because he was unable to offer a proper scientific explanation for his reasoning.

Doctors, offended by his presentation, even mocked Semmelweis for suggesting they should wash their hands.

Not long after he published his book, Semmelweis apparently suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an asylum.

He died two weeks later after he contracted a gangrenous infection following a beating by the guards.

He was 47.

Semmelweis’ theory was confirmed to be true only years later when French scientist Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory and British surgeon and antiseptic surgery pioneer Sir Joseph Lister practiced these hygiene methods with great success.


Nowadays, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities around the world are encouraging people to wash their hands as often as possible.

Instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note in order for handwashing to be effective, you should thoroughly lather soap on your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Soap and water, experts insist, are way more effective ways of killing any germs and bacteria than hand sanitizer.

In case you need a reminder, here’s what the CDC states is proper handwashing procedure:

  • Wet your hands with water, then turn off the tap and soap up your hands;
  • Work the soap into a lather by rubbing your hands together; don’t forget the back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails;
  • Keep going for 20 seconds; here are a few songs you can sing to keep track of the time;
  • Rinse your hands under running water;
  • Dry your hands fully using a clean towel; don’t use a hand dryer -- those just spread germs around the room;
  • Give yourself a thumbs up in the mirror and exit the bathroom;
  • Repeat as many times in a day as necessary.

So, basically, in order to keep yourself and those around you safe and to stop the spread of COVID-19, wash your hands often and thank Ignaz Semmelweis for his discovery.