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

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City of London 1901

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Port of London]

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On the 13th November, I received information from the Medical Officer of
Health for Hammersmith, that a man had been admitted to the West
London Hospital with symptoms strongly suggestive of Plague, viz.,
swellings in the groin, neck and armpits, with fever. The man had come
from the steam tug "Fox,'' which was employed between Woolwich and
Brentford. The vessel was at once traced, and found on her way to Brentford.
Your Medical Officer communicated by telephone to the Local Authority
there, and arranged, pending the result of the bacteriological examination
which was in progress, for the immediate and thorough disinfection of the
vessel, which was done.
The tug was further kept under observation whilst in that district, and
subsequently while within the jurisdiction of the Port Sanitary Authority.
The bacteriological examination, however, failed to demonstrate Plague.
Outbreaks of Plague have occurred in other parts, notably at Glasgow and
These outbreaks may have been due to cases imported from abroad and
unrecognised, or from rats.
At Glasgow the last outbreak was clearly associated with the existence of
Plague amongst the rats in the basement of an hotel.
At Liverpool there were a few cases from September to October. The
source of infection could not be traced to rats.
There is a distinct danger of importation of Plague by means of rats from
infected places on ships, and every possible precaution is necessary in order to
minimise this danger.
The means to be adopted in the case of vessels trading with infected ports,
for the prevention of this danger from rats, should be as follows:—
1. At the port of departure the vessel should be thoroughly fumigated
with a view to the destruction of any rats there may be on board.
Obstructions should be raised to the passage of rats from the shore to the
vessel by placing large metal discs, funnels or brushes on all mooring
ropes, cables, and the like; by keeping the vessel away from the quay,
raising the gangways at night, the use of fresh tar on the edge of the quay
and on all fenders and like objects suspended over the side, and by closing
scuttles and ports.
All persons to be medically examined before going on board, and none
to be allowed to sail with suspicious symptoms. After embarkation,
re-landing to be prohibited.
2. On the voyage any person exhibiting suspicious symptoms to be at
once isolated, and disinfection of quarters, bedding and effects, should take

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