HISTORY OF DISINFECTANTS
JOSEPH LISTER & ANTISEPTIC SURGERY
By the middle of the nineteenth century, post-operative sepsis infectionaccounted for the death of almost half of the patients undergoing major surgery.In 1839 the chemist Justin von Liebig had asserted that sepsis was a kind of combustioncaused by exposing moist body tissue to oxygen. It was therefore considered that the best prevention was to keep air away from wounds by means of plasters, collodion or resins.
Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, doubted this explanation. For many years he had exploredthe inflammation of wounds, at the Glasgow infirmary. These observations had led him toconsider that infection was not due to bad air alone, and that 'wound sepsis' was a form of decomposition.When the Regius Professorship of Surgery at Glasgow University fell vacant in 1859 Lister was selected from seven candidates. In August 1861 he was appointed surgeon at theGlasgow Royal Infirmary and put in charge of its new surgical building.The hope was that the new building would decrease the number of deaths caused by what wasthen called hospital disease (now known as operative sepsis). This proved a vain hope whenLister reported that between 45 and 50 percent of his amputation cases died from sepsis between 1861 and 1865 in his Male Accident Ward. It was in this ward that Lister began hisexperimental work with antisepsis.Having tried methods to encourage clean healing, with little or no success, Lister began toform theories to account for the prevalence of sepsis. He discarded the popular concept of direct infection by bad air and postulated that sepsis might be caused by a 'pollen-like dust'.Although, there is no evidence
GERM CONNECTION WITH WOUND SEPSIS
When, in 1865, Louis Pasteur suggested that decay was caused by living organisms in the air,which on entering matter caused it to ferment, Lister made the connection with wound sepsis.A meticulous researcher and surgeon, Lister recognized the relationship between Pasteur'sresearch and his own. He considered that microbes in the air were likely causing the putrefaction and had to be destroyed before they entered the wound.