In THE DEADLIEST THIEF, my newest mystery, Miriam reminds us that her mother died of childbed fever after giving birth to her and her twin brother.
The first descriptions of childbed fever, also known as puerperal fever, date back to at least the 5th century BCE in the writings of Hippocrates. But it wasn’t until the 19th century CE that physician Ignaz Semmelweis saw the connection between the illness and unwashed hands. And so, by handwashing with a chlorine-based disinfectant in obstetrical clinics, the incidence of maternal death was drastically cut.
Childbed fever was common in mid-19th-century hospitals and often fatal because hand washing was considered odd. First, diseases like malaria and typhoid were associated with having contact with water. And second, indoor plumbing and hygiene facilities in hospitals were rare. The incidence of childbed fever was reduced further in the 1930’s with the introduction of antibiotics.
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