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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2. Vessels from infected ports should be subjected to periodical efficient
fumigation for the destruction of rats not less than once every six months.
This need not necessarily be done in this country. Wherever this is done, a
certificate should be obtained describing the process adopted, and this should be
taken into consideration in deciding the necessity for further fumigation.
3. Warehouses, especially those in which grain and other foodstuffs are
stored, should be made absolutely rat proof. It would not be possible, of course,
to prevent an occasional rat entering by a door or other temporary opening, but
the warehouse doors should be closed when not in use, and especially at night.
4. The Dock Authorities should organise an efficient band of rat catchers,
and should provide every means possible for destroying rats or preventing them
having access to foodstuffs. All ships' refuse and garbage should be burned in
a destructor.
5. A regular and routine bacteriological examination should be made of
rats so that the earliest possible knowledge might be obtained of any case of
Plague amongst rats in any particular district, and measures taken for dealing
with the outbreak could be taken in that locality at once.
Apart from the danger to the Public Health, arising from the possible introduction
of Plague from rats to human beings with the attendant loss of life and health and
dislocation of trade, there is to be considered the serious results that may arise, were
the Port of London declared to be infected with Plague. Vessels arriving in foreign
ports from London would be liable to be detained—to be fumigated before discharging
the cargo—to be made to discharge the cargo away from the quayside—whilst
passengers may be detained for a period of at least five days, and have all their effects
disinfected before being allowed to land. The loss to the owners of ships sailing from
the Port of London alone would amount to many thousands of pounds apart from the
inconvenience and the interference with the regular running of their vessels. The
following letter has been sent to the Port of London Authority:—
12th November, 1912.
The Chief Superintendent of the Docks and Warehouses,
Port of London Authority.
Dear Sir,
With reference to our conversation yesterday and in confirmation thereof, the
following are the points to which I direct special attention:—
1. Continued efforts should be made to destroy rats in the docks, and
specimens should be sent to the London School of Tropical Medicine, for
bacteriological examination—this Authority bearing the cost of the examination,
whilst the Port of London Authority will collect and deliver rats at
the School.
Difficulty has been experienced in obtaining rats from the Surrey
Commercial Docks, for examination.
2. Daily search should be made for dead rats—not omitting Sunday
3. The removal of heaps of wood and other rubbish, which form an
excellent place for harbouring rats.
4. A better method should be adopted for destroying refuse than that of
burying it in the banks. Such refuse contains food which is acceptable to rats,
and tends to attract them to the places where refuse is buried.

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