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

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Stoke Newington 1910

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Stoke Newington, The Metropolitan Borough]

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57
and the rapidity and severity of the epidemic so produced is in
proportion to the abundance of fleas. The development of the rat
epidemic precedes the human epidemic by an interval of about a
fortnight.
An important event of the year 1910 was the occurrence of what
seems to have been a rather extensive spread of Rat Plague in certain
parts of East Suffolk, which, fortunately, was accompanied by very
few human cases. Our experience of the spread of plague by rats in
this country is a very limited one, and it has been confined to a few
cases of human plague (accompanied in all probability by rat
infection), which have quickly disappeared. The brown rat of
England, unlike the common black rat of India, lives mainly outside
houses, in stables, granaries, hedgerows, stacks, barns, and sewers;
and this circumstance is a factor against extensive human plague
prevalence in this country. But most of the resources at our ports
for preventing rat's from ships gaining access to the land are less
efficacious than was once believed, and an examination of the rats in
certain of our ports has demonstrated that the black rat is in evidence.
The Indian experience points very conclusively to the fact that the
main sufferers from plague are the poorer people. It is the
dilapidated houses of the poorest and dirtiest people which are most
likely to be invaded by rats, and by the fleas which inoculate the
human being from the infected rat; therefore every effort should be
made to keep rats out of the home, and to avoid attracting them by
removing all food from their access.
Efforts in the direction of rat destruction are very desirable, not
only when plague threatens, but at all times; for, apart from the
damage they do to sewers, drains, etc., a rat run, in a town district,
is almost invariably from the drain or sewer into the home, and therefore
serves as a drain or sewer ventilator. The economic advantage
of this destruction should appeal to the farmers, who must lose considerably
each year from the food consumed by these rodents. The
type of plague called Pneumonic is often responsible for a death-rate
of 100 per cent. of those attacked, but the Indian Plague Commission
finds that only about per cent, of all cases of Plague are of this


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