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Hygiene, Antisepsis and Asepsis, 1870-1900

This is a black and white illustration of an operation from W. Watson Cheyne, <em>Antiseptic Surgery</em>, 1882. Wellcome Trust ImagesOperation with complete aseptic precautions, Lister’s carbolic spray, from W. Watson Cheyne, Antiseptic Surgery, 1882. Wellcome ImagesThe first period in the modern history of hospital infection control, between 1870 and 1900, might be called a period of hygiene and antisepsis.

In this period, Florence Nightingale (1810-1910) advocated a system for improving hospital sanitary standards, and Joseph Lister (1827-1912) implemented his celebrated operative and post-operative antiseptic techniques aimed at preventing infective agents entering wounds and creating putrefaction (or pus). 

The period also saw the early years of development in bacteriology, and accompanying practices of asepsis aimed at preventing germs entering wounds, wards or theatres through absolute cleanliness and sterilisation. 

1865 Lister, Regius Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University, undertakes his first successful operation at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary using carbolic acid and elaborate bandaging on a compound fracture of the tibia

1867 Lister publishes papers in the Lancet which first announce his system of antiseptic surgery

1869 Lister is appointed Professor of Clinical Surgery at Edinburgh University, lecturing to over 1,500 medical students there during the following eight years.  He used his house surgeon and dressers (male medical students) as assistants in the operating theatre

1873 John Croft, (1833-1905) surgeon at St Thomas’ Hospital London, delivers some of the first lectures on antiseptics and disinfectants to nursing probationers

1875 William Macewen (1848-1924), appointed to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.  A student of Lister, he adopted deep cleansing of hands and arms, sterilization of surgical tools in boiling water, use of surgical gowns and nurses (female) as his assistants in the operating theatre

1877 Lister is appointed Professor of Clinical Surgery at King’s College London. There were 128 medical students at King’s College Medical Department

1882 William Watson Cheyne, (1852-1932) surgeon at King’s College Hospital and loyal disciple of Lister, first publishes his famous textbook Antiseptic Surgery

1880 Alexander Ogston, (1844-1929) surgeon at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, first describes staphylococci bacteria in pus from a surgical abscess in a knee joint

1882 Robert Koch (1843-1910), the founder of modern bacteriology, identifies the bacterial cause of tuberculosis 

1886 Edgar M. Crookshank (1858-1928) establishes the first bacteriological laboratory in a British hospital. Along with Cheyne, Crookshank offers the first formal instruction in bacteriology in a British medical school at King’s College London 

1887 Lister abandons his iconic carbolic spray, introduced in 1871 

1891 Joseph Coats, (1846-1899) Lecturer in Pathology at the University of Glasgow, shows ‘an autoclave sterilizer, for sterilizing by steam under pressure’ at a meeting of the Glasgow Clinical and Pathological Society

1894 William Halstead, (1852-1922) surgeon at John Hopkin’s Hospital, Baltimore, USA, introduces rubber gloves into surgery to prevent irritation caused by disinfectants to his nurses’ hands

1896 A clinical laboratory at St Thomas’ Hospital is established to conduct bacteriological investigation. It is named the Louis Jenner Clinical Laboratory in 1904 following the death of its first superintendent, the fourth son of William Jenner

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