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Semmelweis: The man behind the myth

Portrait of Prof. Manfred Rotter with a black jacket
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At the 16th Congress of the International Federation of Infection Control (March, 16-19, Vienna), Prof. Manfred Rotter,  former head of the Clinical institute of Hygiene and Medical Microbiology at the Medical University in Vienna, will held a keynote lecture about the man behind the myth Semmelweis. With Prof. Rotter spoke Carola Timmel.

Prof. Rotter, you will speak about the man behind the myth Semmelweis. Who, in your opinion, is this man behind the myth, and in what sense can he be example for the physicians of today?

The common perception of the „Savior of Mothers“ does not stand for a myth, but rather for sound scientific thinking and consequent acting, an attitude which helps producing valid results in medical research.

Generally and in particular concerning AMR: Do we need more courage in the medicine?

Lacking the knowledge on valid data I cannot answer this question. But in general, courage is a positive quality that helps to bring things forwards.

What would Semmelweis say in view of the many problems (AMR, HAI) which we are facing?

As he was probably the first to introduce methods of evidence-based medicine in Austria, I think he would have recommended to continue medical research solely in this way and not to rely on myths.

Is he still a role model among doctors, or does he increasingly fall into oblivion?

Regarding the recent recommendations of the World Health Organisation concerning hospital hygiene and those of many national health institutions I have the impression that there is a growing interest in and awareness of Semmelweis´ approach to deal with the transmission of infections, especially in health care.

As former head of the Clinical institute of Hygiene and Medical Microbiology at the Medical University in Vienna: How far you were influenced by Semmelweis?

The scientific work of my group on hand hygiene, especially hand disinfection and methods to quantify its efficacy, has been based on Semmelweis´ findings since 1974 when we began to do research in this area.

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