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

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Deptford 1913

Annual report on the health of the Metropolitan Borough of Deptford

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(3) From house refuse (whether exposed in thousands of small
open receptacles immediately behind the houses, in the streets, or
in a few remote large open tips) microbes of various sorts are
scattered abroad by well-known agencies, air being the chief, but
flies, cats, dogs, mice and rats each doing their portion. Many
carriers of particular disease-germs are now definitely known (as
flies for diarrhoea, fleas and rats for plague, cats for diphtheria), all
these have free access to uncovered receptacles, and may leave
germs as well as take them away.
(4) Carried by such agencies, decay and disease producing germs
swarm in town air, and are deposited everywhere; in particular on
milk, food, clothes, skin and air passages.
In view of these facts it follows that all conditions which encourage
or permit the breeding or the distribution of microbes, in the above
manner, are directly or indirectly dangerous to health and must be
strictly suppressed and prevented not only by the local authority but by
the householder.
House Accommodation for the Working Classes.
The East Ward is the most densely populated district in the Borough,
but every effort is being made to cope with poverty and ignorance.
Buildings which in former days were probably the residences of a
better class are now the swarming grounds of a wretched population.
The carelessness in this area with regard to health, and the ignorance
displayed of the most elementary laws of hygiene, show clearly that
if you are to improve gradually the conditions of these unfortunate
people, you must enforce the legal remedies at your command. The
time has now arrived when we should insist upon a higher standard of
personal cleanliness. Hitherto, men and women with filthy clothing,
often in a verminous condition, and living in houses in which dirt is
everywhere prevalent, have been tolerated and even pitied. With
the exception of those responsible for verminous children and those
persons living in " houses let in lodgings," there is no law to punish the
offenders, and yet the elementary principle on which nearly every
advance in public health has been made is on lines of greater cleanliness.
Sanitary science of to-day is the inevitable result of a most remarkable
evolution. As it has developed, and its principles have become
firmly established, it has been more and more clearly perceived that
its art and philosophy extend beyond the individual, beyond groups
or classes, over artificial limitations, and include in its wide domain
all that makes for the betterment of humanity.
When we consider the housing of the working classes we perceive
that the old days and old conceptions of disease and health are

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