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

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City of London 1913

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

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21
RAT PLAGUE.
In previous Annual Reports, I have reported the existence of Plague amongst
the rats in the Port of London and have printed the correspondence which I have had
with the Port of London Authority with a view to preventing the recurrence of
this danger.
The Local Government Board arranged for an interview between the Port of London
Sanitary Authority and the Port of London Authority at the Local Government Board
on 26th September, 1913, with the idea of discussing the question.
The risk of human infection arising in London owing to the existence of rat plague
in London and in its docks and warehouses was mentioned. It was pointed out that if
more than two cases of human plague were reported in the Port of London, it would
have to be declared an infected port, and in consequence the financial loss to the shipping
trade would be very large.
Four sets of measures were indicated as being desirable to be carried out.
First, that all the warehouses in which food is placed or stored should be made
ratproof.
Secondly, all refuse and waste matter that forms harbourage for rats should not be
disposed of around the warehouses.
Thirdly, that the present type of sanitary conveniences should be replaced by water
closets with modern arrangements inaccessible to rats.
Fourthly, that not only should the warehouses be made ratproof, but also the
dwelling houses and offices within the dock area should be treated in a similar way.
The following extracts from a Report of the Citizens' Health Committee on
eradicating rats from San Francisco are interesting as showing the sort of work which
might have to be done should Plague be introduced into London.
The epidemic broke out in 1906, and only Chinatown where proper ratproofing
measures had been taken during a previous outbreak in 1900 was exempt from Plague.
The first case occurred in March, 1907, and between August, 1907, and January 31st,
1908, 159 cases occurred with 77 deaths. In the course of the epidemic, some 154,000
rats were bacteriologically examined. 400 paid Inspectors and labourers were kept at
work for several months, in addition to the force maintained by the Board of Health
and the Federal Government, together with a large force of voluntary Inspectors.
3,000/. was spent in rat traps and poisons alone ; cheese for bait being purchased in lots
of a ton at a time. In November, 1907, the expense of anti-plague operations in San
Francisco alone were 10,000/., and between August, 1907, and June, 1908, no less
than 84,400/. were spent in these operations.


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