The Fever Of 1849

Jim Berry


“THE FEVER OF 1849” is a graphic novel project that tells the haunting, true mystery story of Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweis. He was the maverick medical pioneer who first discovered how imperative it is for all healthcare personnel to wash their hands before treating patients, and the first to use antiseptic procedures in childbirth.


While working as an Obstetric Assistant at the Vienna (Austria) General Hospital, Dr. Semmelweis (1818-1865) noted that nearly thirty percent of all new mothers died from puerperal or “childbed fever” within three days of giving birth. The medical establishment at that time deemed the high death rate to simply be “the price that God has put on the great gift of bearing a child.” However, Dr. Semmelweis adamantly disagreed, and devoted homself to finding a way to save the mothers’ lives. Eventually he determined the fever was caused by the doctors themselves: The doctors would often perform autopsies and other invasive procedures, simply wipe their hands on their woolen smocks, then immediately help a woman deliver her baby. Dr. Semmelweis correctly deduced that the mothers were dying from the infection doctors carried on their dirty, unwashed hands and invented a simple solution: He exhorted doctors to wash their hands in chlorinated lime before examining any expectant moth

While Dr. Semmelweis’ solution worked immediately and caused death rates to plummet, it also threatened and enraged the medical establishment. Doctors resisted any suggestions from an upstart junior colleague, and found the whole concept of forced hand washing ”humiliating”. Consequently, the vast majority of Vienna’s medical establishment worked feverishly to wash their hands of Ignaz Semmelweis, rather than wash their hands to save patients’ lives.

After enduring years of personal and professional persecution in Vienna, Dr. Semmelweis returned to Hungary where he again faced ridicule and rejection from that country’s medical establishment. Nonetheless, he successfully instituted his hand-washing protocal in a local hospital and, as had happened in Austria, death rates from childbed fever decreased dramatically. Sadly, though, he died in a sanitarium at age 47 haunted, some say, by the screams of those women he could not save. Today Dr. Semmelweis is universally acknowledged as the “father of infection control”. And hand washing by medical personnel is deemed imperative to combat the proliferation of drug-resistant “super bugs”, plus the threat of bird flu, swine flu and other epidemics plaguing our global health.

The “Fever” graphic novel is authored by Northwest photographer and writer, Jim Berry, who also is the project’s producer. Jim began working on the Semmelweis story in 1998 while still a student in New York University’s MFA filmmaking program. His short film script won a production grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Jim completed the film in 2000 as his graduate thesis. That film won numerous awards and screened at over 50 film festivals around the world. It also led Jim to a Fulbright Scholarship in Budapest, Hungary where he researched and wrote a feature-length screenplay on the life of Dr. Semmelweis. In 2004, the resulting script was (and still is) optioned.

In 2008, Jim adapted that script to a graphic-novel format He has produced the first 16 pages of the “Fever” book with Aaron McConnell, an award-winning illustrator who also does nonfiction and historical-fiction comics. (An example of Aaron’s work is the critically-acclaimed book,”The United States Constitution”, which uses the art of illustrated storytelling to explain and analyze that cornerstone document of American democracy. Please see

The “Fever” graphic novel will be around 100 pages long, and the script is
already written! Please consider supporting our project and help bring a
great story to life — one that, at its core, shows why we should always keep an open mind to new ideas.
Pages from “Fever” are available for viewing at