The use of antiseptic in surgery though researched by many, never gained much ground due to lack of scientific evidence. The common belief was that diseases were transmitted due to ‘bad air’ which forms the basis of Miasma theory. It was the germ theory of disease suggested by Louis Pasteur, a french microbiologist and chemist, which confirmed that diseases were actually caused by microorganisms rather than by chemicals in the air. His theory paved the way for research in this field.
Joseph Lister worked on similar lines and came to the same conclusion as Pasteur. He started applying a solution of carbolic acid(also known as phenol) to open wounds and surgical instruments after learning that it was used to treat sewage. He found that carbolic acid was effective in reducing postoperative infections to a great degree thus making surgery safer for patients.
Lister wrote about his findings in the medical journal, ‘The Lancet’ in 1967 and encouraged the use of carbolic acid during surgery. His invention brought a radical change in the surgical methods employed henceforth.