In 1793 Martha McTier wrote to her brother, Dr William Drennan, seeking advice for the new ‘Lying-In Hospital’ she was helping to establish. In these times, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, his advice is as relevant today as when he penned his response in 1793.

If a house [the Lying-In Hospital] be established, the great advice is cleanliness and frequent washing. Simple water is the sovereign remedy against all infectious diseases when frequently and properly used. Nature has supplied the remedy in abundance, but we trust to a thousand follies such as vinegar, camphor, tobacco & c. WASH AND BE CLEAN should be the motto over the door of every hospital.

Semmelweiss of Vienna (1846) and Oliver Wendell Holmes in America (1843) have received the chief credit for emphasising, in the face of almost overwhelming opposition, the extreme importance of clean hands in stopping the spread of disease, yet here is Dr William Drennan stating an equally clear case in 1793.

It was not until the 1870s that the work of Louis Pasteur proved the bacterial origin and infective nature of many diseases.

So, 227 years after Dr Drennan gave the original advice, remember to follow the current guidance and wash your hands, regularly and thoroughly, with soap and water, and together we can all do our bit in this difficult situation.