Alexander Gordon, puerperal sepsis, and modern theories of infection control--Semmelweis in perspective

Lancet Infect Dis. 2010 Apr;10(4):275-8. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(09)70304-4.


Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who practised in 19th century Vienna, is widely believed to be the father of modern infection control. He earned this accolade when he showed that puerperal sepsis was contagious and that it could be prevented with adequate hand hygiene. In fact, such ideas had circulated in the medical world for at least a century before Semmelweis' work. Moreover, it is well documented that Alexander Gordon, an obstetrician working in Aberdeen, UK, was the first to prove the contagious nature of puerperal sepsis. He also advocated the need for good hygiene for its prevention in a thesis published in 1795. This work described an epidemic of puerperal sepsis that began in Aberdeen in 1789. Gordon's thesis was reprinted three times in Edinburgh, Philadelphia, and London over the next 55 years, suggesting that Semmelweis (1847) could well have known of his work. Like Semmelweis, Gordon was persecuted for his findings.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • Communicable Disease Control / history*
  • Female
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Hungary
  • Hygiene / standards
  • Numismatics
  • Puerperal Infection / history
  • Puerperal Infection / prevention & control*
  • Scotland
  • Sepsis / history
  • Sepsis / prevention & control*

Personal name as subject

  • Alexander Gordon
  • Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis