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

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Port of London 1912

Report for the year ended 31st December 1912 of the Medical Officer of Health for the Port of London

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During the year the names and addresses of 563 persons—passengers and crews of
vessels—were notified to the various districts in which they reside. So far as I have
been able to learn, only three of these addresses were not subsequently traced. This is
less than one per cent., which, taken as a whole, may be considered satisfactory, but in
my opinion additional powers are required similar to those conferred by the Local
Government Board order relating to Plague, Yellow Fever and Cholera, which would
enable Port Medical Officers to obtain the names and addresses of persons landing from
vessels on which a case of Small-pox had occurred, or which had sailed, within 16 days
of the arrival of the vessel, from a port where Small-pox is known to exist.
An International Sanitary Conference was held at Paris and concluded its proceedings
in the early part of the year. It was attended by delegates from 42 countries. The
previous Conference was held in 1903, and the proceedings of that Conference were
carefully examined and revised. The general provisions of the Conference are as
follows:—The first recognised case of Plague, Cholera or Yellow Fever which occurs
outside the limits of local areas already affected must be immediately notified, as the
new local area might be hundreds of miles distant from that which was first infected.
A proposal was made that all ports in direct relation with an infected area should
be mentioned in the notification. The British delegates were successful in securing
the rejection of this proposal, which would only tempt certain countries to treat such
ports as infected and to put restrictions on shipping arriving from these ports.
The local area is to be considered as no longer infected with Yellow Fever when
there have been no fresh cases for 18 days after the isolation, death or recovery of the
last patient. The measures taken for the prevention of the introduction of disease from
infected ports on the departure of vessels are now applicable generally. Formerly they
only applied to ports outside Europe, but now Yellow Fever is included as well as Plague
and Cholera. The destruction of mosquitos in the case of Yellow Fever is also required
as well as the destruction of rats in the case of Plague, and in relation with the latter
disease the destruction of rat fleas is recognised.
The preponderating part played by rats and their parasites in Bubonic Plague was
more fully recognised than at the previous Conference. Proposals were made to enforce
a compulsory system of periodical rat destruction on all vessels and even to extend the
same system to ports. It was, however, decided to recommend that ships should be
subjected to periodical rat destruction, and that preferential treatment should be accorded
in ports of arrival to ships that had undergone the process. Destruction of rats on
suspected ships is also made compulsory. In the former Convention it was optional
The provisions as to the prevention of destruction to merchandise and to ship's
plating and engines are qualified by the words "as far as possible."
An important question was discussed, namely the procedure in the case of Cholera
germ carriers. It is a fact that persons whilst showing no signs of this disease, nevertheless,
may contain within their bodies the bacilli of Cholera which may infect other
persons. Several delegates pressed for the bacteriological examination of passengers
and crews from Cholera infected ports, and after much discussion, it was decided that
bacteriological examination may be applied in the case of infected and suspected ships as
is necessary, that is, amongst contacts or suspected persons.

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