London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Hackney 1899

Report on the sanitary condition of the Hackney District for the year 1899

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49
APPENDIX.
PREVENTION OF CONSUMPTION.
Consumption, or phthisis, or tuberculosis, is a disease of an infectious
nature, attacking persons at all ages and of both sexes, and spreading
either from person to person or by means of tuberculous food.
It causes in Great Britain alone over 70,000 deaths each year, and
in Hackney over 400 deaths. The disease is now known to be due to
a microbe called "the bacillus of tubercle," which gains access to the
body by the nose or moath, from which it is carried to the lungs or
bowels, where, under certain favourable conditions, it gives rise to
tuberculous disease of these organs. In consumption of the lungs,
the patient coughs up a large quantity of phlegm. The phlegm or
spit thus coughed up contains a vast quantity of the microbes of
tubercle; and it is by means of this spit or phlegm that the disease of
consumption is mainly spread from person to person. A patient
suffering from consumption does not give off the disease by the skin
or the breath, but only in the spit, or occasionally by the bowels.
The spit itself is not dangerous while it is kept moist, but only when
it is allowed to dry about rooms or on handkerchiefs, afterwards
becoming pulverised and dispersed in the atmosphere of rooms or
public vehicles as dust. Such dust, inhaled, is capable of producing
the disease in other persons. This is more likely to occur in persons
in bad or weak health, whether due to disease, over indulgence in
alcohol, poverty, overcrowding, or insanitary occupations or
surroundings.
Now, the microbes in the spit are not destroyed by drying, but
remain alive a considerable time as dust, especially in dark, illventilated,
or overheated, or dirty, or damp rooms. Fresh air, daylight,
and particularly sun-light, kill the microbes speedily; and a
healthy body with sanitary surroundings is the best defence against
them.
Consumption is not only common amongst human beings, but is
particularly common amongst certain domestic animals, especially
milch-cows and pigs. The flesh of these is capable of giving rise to


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