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

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Port of London 1911

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

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Plague, which during the year 1910 showed some sign of abatement in India, has
become more prevalent during the year 1911, and it is estimated that by the end of the
year the deaths from plague there will amount to nearly one million. Serious outbreaks
occurred in Manchuria, which resulted in 50 thousand deaths. This outbreak
was pneumonic in form, that is, the lungs were principally infected. This is the most
infective and dangerous form of the disease, scarcely any person ever recovering from it.
Plague has occurred in South America and in certain ports in Europe, but
principally those in Southern Russia.
Plague has also occurred in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritius.
During the year a systematic bacterological examination has been made of rats from
various docks within the jurisdiction of the Port Sanitary Authority.
1,250 rats have been so examined, but only one was found infected with Plague,
and that early in February. In addition, five rats were found infected with Plague in a
warehouse bordering on the river at Wapping, but not within the district of the Port
Sanitary Authority. This was an isolated outbreak, and the measures adopted appear
to have been successful in preventing the spread of this disease amongst rats.
Had an outbreak of plague occurred amongst the rats in the docks, it would probably
have been at once detected, and measures taken to prevent it spreading.
Only one rat was found infected with plague during the year, viz., in February,
and there was some suspicion that it had possibly been found on a vessel and thrown
The Port Sanitary Committee readily agreed to have the rats bacteriologically
examined, and the sum of 1561.5s. was spent on the work ; they took the view that it was
of the first importance to be able, not only to recognise an early outbreak of plague
amongst rats, but to be able definitely to say that after a systematic examination, that
there was no plague found existing amongst rats in the Port of London.
In a recent report on plague investigations in India, particulars are given of some
experiments on the natural increase of rats.
It appears that one pair of rats may produce about 36 young in the course of 12
months, and as they breed at the age of 4.5 months, from a pair of rats no less than
858 may be produced in the course of 16 months.
The Commonwealth of Australia requires vessels coming from or touching at ports
which have been declared to be infected with Plague, to be fumigated with Sulphur
Di-oxide Gas at the port of departure and when empty, with a view to the destruction of
rats on board.
During the year 23 vessels have been fumigated by the apparatus of this Authority
in the Port of London, so as to comply with the requirements of the Australian
The apparatus worked satisfactorily, and it is now practicable to fumigate any one
of the largest vessels entering the port within a period of 24 hours.
No case of plague or of suspected plague has been reported during the year on any
vessel arriving in the Port of London.