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

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City of London 1924

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

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On the 3rd November the ship was again fumigated with cyanide and 35
dead rats were recovered, 9 of which were plague infected. Since this disinfestation,
6 rats were trapped, all free from plague.
The cargo, about 6,000 tons, from New Orleans and Newport News, consisted
of timber, lubricating oil, spelter, oyster shell, rice and carbon black. There was
rice in bags in all holds.
The trapping of rats after disinfestation is a suspicious circumstance but there
is a possibility that these boarded the vessel at New Orleans between November
3rd, the date of final disinfesting, and the 27th November, the date of leaving.
In the dock the ship was boomed off, 15 feet from the quay, during non-working
hours. Every mooring rope was guarded with tarred trapping and discs
properly fitted. One gangway only was permitted and this was whitened. No barge
was allowed to be alongside during non-working hours or from dusk to dawn.
A watch was kept for rats alive or dead during discharge of cargo.
The assumption of a difficulty of complete efficacy in disinfesting with cyanide
in the presence of cargo made the close examination of this ship as to rats on discharge
a matter of interest.
Recent evidence (ss. " Trevanion ") as well as a past experience (ss. " Hector ")
shows that a history of only small numbers of rats on board is quite compatible with
human outbreak in the presence of rat plague infection, particularly where the
manifest shows no particular attraction to rats in the holds.
No sign of rats was found on board ; the American fumigations appear to have
been absolute. In order to secure a certificate of disinfestation and thus clear the
ship of any stispicion a further sulphur disinfestation was carried out in the Port.
On the 14th October, 1924, information was received from the Ministry of
Health that a case (or two cases) of plague had occurred on the ss. " Trevanion,"
which arrived at Port Said from Cardiff on the 21st September.
The movements of the vessel were as follows :—
May, 1924, on voyage from Cardiff to Rio de Janeiro.
June 9, arrived Rio de Janeiro.
June 18, left Rio de Janeiro for Bahia Blanca.
June 26, arrived Bahia Blanca.
July 8, left Bahia Blanca for St. Vincent.
June 28, left St. Vincent for London.
August 13, arrived London.
Left London (in ballast) for Barry.
August 22, arrived Cardiff.
September 4, sailed from Cardiff.
September 5, passed Lundi Islands.
September 21, arrived Port Said.
This vessel arrived at Gravesend, 7-25 p.m., on the 13th August. Close enquiries
were made with regard to rats, the vessel having come from a plaguesuspected
port with a grain cargo. The answers given by the master were not
completely satisfactory, and instructions were given for further enquiries to be
The vessel proceeded to Bellamy's Wharf where a thorough examination was
carried out ; no trace of rats was found.
The vessel was reported to have been fumigated at Dunkirk in May, by
" sulphur pump." About 40 rats were then found as a result of fumigation.
The ss. " Osterley " which arrived from Brisbane on the 20th November,
brought back several distressed British seamen from Port Said, amongst whom was
H.D. He contracted plague on the ss. " Trevanion " and was landed at Port Said.
He had buboes in both groins and fever. Both buboes were opened and healed.
The scars showed that these were femoral buboes. The Surgeon of the " Osterley "
had no knowledge of these cases and did not report them until questioned as to
the illness of several distressed British seamen. Documents were then produced
and their details obtained. H.D. was questioned by the boarding Medical Officer
and supplied the following interesting details.
He was a mess-room boy and was affected two days later than the steward.
He, a steward and a cabin boy berthed together in the poop. Next to their cabin
was a storeroom. He saw numerous rats during the outward voyage from Cardiff.