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Master Thesis

Histoire de la fièvre puerpérale : la peste noire des femmes

Abstract : The puerperal fever was, regarding its own history, a real mystery. This is the story of this inexplainable fever known since Antiquity. It raged in European maternity wards, hospitals, and homes many times against totally clueless scientists. It was at the origin of a postpartum mortality never equaled and particularly severe in the nineteenth century. The main part of this historical narrative is presenting the revelation of its secrets, scattered over several centuries. The history of the “Black Death of Women” is also the saga of great personalities in science as well as literature in which emerged the epic story of a young German-speaking Hungarian and his tragic life. Ignaz Semmelweis will remain forever associated with the discovery of the causes of puerperal fever. But the hidden face of Streptococcus pyogenes, the historical responsible part of the maternal mass mortality could not have been brought to light without the birth of the microbiology of the Pasteurian era. The puerperal fever exploded in the 19th century throughout Europe and especially in France where demography and birth rates weakened already. Structural changes made since the end of the 19th century helped to revive them until the reversal of the initial situation after World War II. A true submersion into the heart of a society that has disappeared today, but which has been able to take advantage of its discoveries and its changes to convey them. The legacy left by the scientific alliance of those great men is the most beautiful gift left to obstetrics: the survival of women after childbirth. The gradual introduction of antiseptic and aseptic measures, as well as the rising of antibiotics, finally overwhelmed the maternal infection. The work of scientists of the late 19th and 20th century was so powerful and stunning that it managed to rise beyond the borders of a Europe trapped in the grip of strong geopolitical tensions. The triumph of the war against puerperal fever was above all the one against ignorance.
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Audrey Alloyer. Histoire de la fièvre puerpérale : la peste noire des femmes. Sciences du Vivant [q-bio]. 2018. ⟨dumas-02147022⟩

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