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

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City of London 1919

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

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The ship was known to be very ratty. Constant trapping was accounting for
numbers of rats. At Shanghai (August 1st) the ship was "disinfested" by means
of Flue Gas (Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide mixture), after which there was
much ripping up of cabin floors because of dead rats under the planking in the 'tween
deck passenger accommodation.
At Yokohama the ship was quarantined for Cholera. Here the fore peak was
disinfected for "flies" by means of Sulphur Dioxide Gas. The peak has not been
disinfected at Shanghai because the crew's quarters were situated over this.
The ship was fumigated at Marseilles by Clayton Apparatus on October 15th.
From the fact that passengers were back in their 'tween deck accommodation very
shortly after the fumigation of the holds, this fumigation could not have been so
much a measure of extermination of rats as a cause of their flight from amongst the
cargo exposed to the gas.
The tally of rats taken during the round voyage is :—-
Caught by traps or found dead 683 194homeward.
Killed by fumigation at Shanghai and tallied 292
Total 975
The rat figures were daily entered in a note-book by the Chief Officer.
For a few days after the fumigation at Shanghai no rats were caught; then the
daily average gradually rose.
The diagnosis of Rat Plague was made by the Pathologist to the Ministry of
Health from a rat found dead in the tween deck on the 29th October. On the
30th October another dead rat from the same situation examined by me showed a
typical macroscopic Plague condition in the liver. Both these rats had come out
from cover, and had been picked up within a few hours of death.
During discharge the number of dead rats found was 36.
Their location was as follows:—
Forward store room 4
Hold No. 1 21
,, No. 2 1
,, No. 5 2
Died tween deck 2
Trapped on deck 3
Found dead on boat deck 3
After the final fumigation, and on sweeping up the deck, 188 rats were found
Among the illnesses on the outward voyage is one of a refrigerating mechanic,
who was taken ill on the 3rd August, suffered from "Influenza" and died of "Cardiac
Failure" in hospital at Yokohama on August 14th. This case was seen by successive
doctors on the 5th, 9th and 12th August; but in the light of subsequent events may
possibly have been one of Septicæmic Plague.
Focus op Infection.— Seven out of the eight cases of Human Plague were from
the Lascar quarters in the port main deck forecastle. The eighth case (Case 5) in a
fireman was from a 'tween deck lower forecastle accommodation.
The first two cases (both died) were in the Kasab, who issues the native stores,
and the boy who bunked by his side and was his assistant.
The native food store, which is situated in the peak in front of the collision
bulkhead, and therefore separated from all communication with the hold except over
deck through the Lascar quarters, opens into these quarters by means of a trap in
the deck within a few feet of where Cases 1, 2, 3 and 4 were bunked. Practically
beneath the bunks of Cases 1 and 4 two goose-neck ventilators opened from the peak
food store into the Lascar quarters.
On the 28th October five putrid or dead rats were found in the peak (one
decumanus and four rattus). I saw fly pupæ and larvae on these rats. The peak was
not fumigated at Marseilles
It is said amongst the Lascars that the patients knew their illness to be due to
Cargo.—This consists largely of silk in all states, and all holds contain rice,
tapioca, and peas