In 1843, physician Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote and published The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever, an essay about puerperal fever, a disease that occurs mainly as a result of bacterial infection in the uterine tract of women after giving birth or undergoing an abortion. In the essay, Holmes argues that puerperal fever is spread through birth attendants like physicians and midwives who make contact with the disease and carry it from patient to patient. The article was published in The New England Quarterly Journal of Medicine and Surgery in 1843. Holmes, who lived in Boston, Massachusetts, later republished his essay as a private publication in 1855 with a different title, Puerperal Fever as a Private Pestilence. Holmes's essay was one of the first publications to present puerperal fever as a contagious disease and to discuss preventative measures to inhibit the spread of puerperal fever, which helped preserve the lives of pregnant women and their newborns.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis demonstrated that the use of disinfectants could reduce the occurrence of puerperal fever in patients in nineteenth century Austria. Puerperal fever is a bacterial infection that can occur in the uterine tract of women after giving birth or undergoing an abortion. Semmelweis determined that puerperal fever is contagious and argued that the unhygienic practices of physicians, like examining patients after performing autopsies, caused the spread of puerperal fever. He showed that if physicians washed their hands with a chloride solution before they attended patients, then they prevented those patients from developing puerperal fever. Despite being widely criticized during his lifetime, Semmelweis's research on the contagiousness of puerperal fever set a precedent for many scientists, and contributed to preventing the spread of puerperal fever.