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

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Port of London 1929

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

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The ss. "Collegian" arrived at Gravesend on the 3rd October, from Calcutta.
A coal trimmer was taken ill during the homeward voyage, and was landed at Port Said
on 19th September as a suspected case of Small-pox. The whole of the crew of the
vessel, including the patient, had been vaccinated at Calcutta on 26th August. The
crew were inspected on arrival and found to be all well.
Typhoid Fever.
The ss. "Llandovery Castle" arrived off Gravesend on 4th September, from
ports on the East Coast of Africa, via the Suez Canal, Genoa and Marseilles. The
Boarding Medical Officer ascertained that there were ten cases of Typhoid Fever on
board, and that another case had been landed at Marseilles. The ten cases were
removed to Denton Hospital, and the necessary disinfection of clothing, bedding and
infected quarters was carried out. As it was possible that other persons on board
might be in the incubation stage of the disease, the names and addresses of all
passengers and crew were forwarded to the Medical Officers of Health of the various
districts to which they were proceeding. A few passengers, who had given only
addresses of agents or banks, were written to personally and advised that, if, during
the three weeks following their disembarkation, they suffered from any illness, they
should inform their medical attendant that they had landed from a ship on which there
had been an epidemic of Typhoid Fever.
Although there was no evidence that the water on board was the source of infection
or was in any way contaminated, it was deemed advisable to have all water tanks
emptied and cleaned.
Owing to the fact that the ship's surgeon was landed at Marseilles on account of
illness, not Typhoid Fever, it was very difficult to get a clear history of the outbreak.
The infected persons comprised three first-class passengers, an engineer, the bandmaster,
five stewards and one ordinary seaman. Of these, one passenger died at
Marseilles, and an engineer and a steward died in Denton Hospital. The first case
was that of a passenger, aged 14, who was probably infected ashore in Durban before
joining the ship, and was taken ill on 11th August. The remaining cases all sickened
between 22nd August and 28th August. It was not possible to come to a definite
decision as to how the infection was disseminated on board.
The circumstances of the following case strongly suggest that it was one of
Psittacosis :—
On 9th December, A. C., ship's carpenter ex ss. "Bellailsa," was removed to
the Port Sanitary Hospital, Denton, as a suspected case of Typhoid Fever. The
symptoms, though suggesting Typhoid Fever, were by no means typical of that disease.
Certain allegations were made by a member of the crew in regard to the condition
of one of the water tanks on board. Careful investigation showed these allegations to
be unfounded. Moreover, there was no sickness amongst the remainder of the crew.
It was, however, ascertained that the patient had bought two parrots in Buenos Aires
and kept them in his room while the vessel went to Rosario, and subsequently returned
to Buenos Aires. Two days after the vessel left Buenos Aires, on the voyage to
London, one parrot became ill with diarrhoea and drowsiness, and was killed by the
patient. A few days later the second bird developed similar symptoms and died.
The patient began to be ill some four or five days after the death of the
second bird.
A number of outbreaks of Psittacosis had been reported in the Argentine Republic,
and, in view of this, the necessary specimens from the patient were sent to the
Seamen's Hospital, Greenwich, and to the Laboratories of the Ministry of Health for
bacteriological examination. Both laboratories reported that the tests gave negative
results for the Typhoid group of organisms and the Psittacosis bacillus. But in the
present state of our knowledge of Psittacosis these negative results cannot be held