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Friday, 14 August 2015


Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, was a daughter of the god of medicine, Asclepius. The word "hygiene" meaning the art of preserving health using sanitary principles comes from this Greek goddess.

Of the 613 commandments in the Old Testament Pentateuch books, 213 were of a medical nature, many of which stressed the importance of social hygiene. The Book of Numbers, for instance, ordained that if somebody was to touch a corpse he was considered unclean for seven days and would have to wash with water on the third and seventh days. The washing procedure thereby cleared the unclean person of germs and protected others from exposure to harmful bacteria.

The First Crusade was led by noble knights who were accompanied by a throng of peasants. They were described by contemporaries as "stinking" and were dressed in sack-cloths and filthy rags.

The Aztecs followed Spaniards around with incense burners when they came to the Americas. The Spaniards believed this to be a divine honor, however it was actually a necessity due to the wide gap in hygiene between the two peoples. The Aztec found their stench unbearable.

In a hospital in Vienna, a Hungarian Dr Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865), was appalled at the death rate of pregnant women who came to the hospital to give birth. Around 18% of the women were dying from puerperal or "childbed" fever, a bacterial infection of the female genital tract after childbirth.
Semmelweis studied the records and found that, in the clinic staffed by medical students, the mortality due to the fever was three times that in the clinic staffed by midwives. He concluded that it was the infectious matter carried on the hands of the medical students treating the women after handling corpses in the post-mortem room that was responsible for spreading the fever from one patient to another. So in 1847 he ordered the interns to wash their hands in a solution of chlorinated lime before delivering a baby. Within three months, the death rate had fallen to 1%. Semmelweis  was utilizing similar hygiene techniques to those used by the Hebrews 3,000 years previously.

Louis Pasteur, the French pioneer of hygienic procedures, had a fear of dirt and infection. He refused to shake hands with acquaintances for fear of infection and carefully wiped plate and glass before dining.

Hot water is almost no better than cold at washing bacteria off your hands -. the most important ingredient is soap. While bacteria can be killed by hot water, it would need to be almost boiling.

Source QI: The Third Book Of General Ignorance

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