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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three firemen and three Lascars. The cases appear to have been partly of the bubonic
and partly of the pneumonic type, and were probably infected at the port of departure.
No rats were reported to have been seen on board since leaving Colombo, where the
vessel was fumigated, and all necessary disinfection carried out. No fresh cases
occurred. On arrival at Gravesend all on board were medically inspected, and no
suspicious symptoms found.
The s.s. "Nyanza," of Greenock, 123,529, arrived in this Port on the 25th July,
1912, from Calcutta, all well on board. On the 27th July I received information that a
lascar was suffering with a high fever and inflamed inguinal buboes. The case was
considered very suspicious, and was immediately removed to Denton Hospital for
observation, and all necessary disinfection of the vessel carried out. No dead rats were
found, and all precautions in this relation were taken.
Material from the bubo was sent to the Local Government Board for examination,
and a report was received from them that the specimen was "negative" as regards Plague.
During the past year, I regret to have to report that Plague has again occurred
amongst the rats—this time on the South side of the Victoria Dock. The measures
which were found successful on former occasions, have again been taken with similar
The outbreaks of Rat Plague in the Port of London have been as follows: —
1908 1. North Quay, West India Dock. Lasting from August to September 26th.
This was a serious outbreak, many rats being affected.
1909 2. No. 19 Warehouse, South West India Dock. A small localised outbreak.
Seven rats only were found dead on November 11th.
1910 3. North side, Royal Albert Dock. Three rats only found affected, October
1911 4. North side, Victoria Dock. One rat only in February.
Several rats were affected with Plague in a warehouse at Wapping bordering
the river, but not within the district of the Port of London Sanitary Authority.
1912 5. The present outbreak has lasted from 9th February to 30th December,
During the year, 1310 rats were bacteriologically examined, but only 13 were
found affected with Plague.
It will be seen, therefore, that Plague has occurred amongst rats in the Port of
London during five years in succession.
In all epidemics of Plague, the history is usually the same—outbreaks of Plague
occur amongst rodent for several years, and then suddenly there may be an extension of
the disease to human beings. Plague is now epidemic in so many parts of the world,
with which the Port of London is in constant communication, that vessels arriving thence
. .
must be considered as potential means of conveying infection to this country. The
following measures, in my opinion, are necessary for minimising the. risk of introduction
of Plague into this country:—
1. Measures for preventing rats going on shore from vessels should be
stringently carried out.

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