A brief history of infection control - past and present

S Afr Med J. 2007 Nov;97(11 Pt 3):1161-4.


The scientific study of hospital or nosocomial cross-infection began during the first half of the 18th century, and from that time until the start of the 'Bacteriological Era' many of the most notable contributions originated in Scotland. However it was only 100 years later in 1858 that Florence Nightingale promoted the case for hospital reform. The real understanding of hospital infection followed upon the discoveries of Pasteur, Koch and Lister and the beginning of the 'Bacteriological Era'. The close of the 19th century saw the triumphs of hospital reform and asepsis and seemed to herald the final victory over hospital cross-infection. However, the victory was short-lived. It was soon realised that infections occurred not only in obstetric and surgical patients, but in medical patients as well, and that air could also be a source of infection. Streptococcal, staphylococcal and then Gram-negative bacilli as a cause of hospital infection became a focus of attention, as did antibiotic-resistant organisms. This paper looks briefly at the establishment of the control of infection doctor, infection control committee and infection control nurse as well as summarising the changes, problems and advances in infection control up to the present time.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Congresses as Topic
  • Cross Infection / prevention & control
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial
  • Gram-Negative Bacterial Infections / prevention & control
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / history*
  • Infection Control / trends
  • International Cooperation
  • Staphylococcal Infections
  • Streptococcal Infections / prevention & control
  • Tuberculosis / prevention & control