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

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City of London 1937

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

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The ss. "Somali" arrived at Gravesend on Thursday, 1st July, from Yokohama,
Kobe, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Port Swettenham, Penang, Colombo,
Bombay, Aden, Port Said, Marseilles, Le Havre, with a general cargo including tea,
rubber, beans, peas, coffee, timber, frozen eggs in tins, chilled eggs in crates, dried
hides, bales of rags and felt cuttings, canned goods, bristles, chutney in casks, lentils,
cotton yarn, silk in bales, copra in bags, oil cake in bags, groundnut kernels and pepper.
She was boarded by the Boarding Medical Officer at Gravesend, the Declaration of
Health was " all clear " and no sickness was discovered on medical inspection.
The ship proceeded to No. 2 Shed, King George V. Dock, and was visited next
morning by a Sanitary Inspector and Rat Officer. The Sanitary Inspector ascertained
that the ship was in possession of a Deratisation Certificate issued in Kobe on
28th April, the fumigant being a CO-CO2 mixture, and 13 dead rats recovered. The
Rat Officer did not detect anything suspicious of rodent plague on his first examination.
The vessel continued to discharge cargo over the week-end but was not visited
again until Monday morning, 5th July. The Sanitary Inspector was then informed
that a number of dead rats had been discovered amongst the cargo and that the
stevedores had complained of the smell of decomposing rats. On further enquiry
from the ship's officers he was told that 261 rats had been caught and destroyed on
board during the voyage.
The Inspector promptly obtained two dead rats and sent these, together with
one freshly killed by the Rat Officer, to the Bacteriological Laboratory at the Seamen's
Hospital, Greenwich.
Meanwhile the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company were informed
that, despite the valid certificate of deratisation issued at Kobe, the vessel would,
under the circumstances, have to be fumigated on completion of discharge.
At about 1.15 p.m., the Bacteriologist at the Seamen's Hospital, telephoned
to say that, of the three rats submitted, one showed no signs of B.pestis infection
but the other two showed enlarged lymphatic glands containing thick yellow pus.
The spleens of these two rats were enlarged and soft and the post mortem appearances
were strongly suggestive of B.pestis infection. On examination of films from glands
and spleens he found non-motile, Gram-negative, short bacilli with bi-polar staining
morphologically identical with B.pestis.
On receipt of this message all work on the ship was stopped and the Shipping
Company were informed that she must be fumigated immediately. The vessel was
already boomed off about six feet from the pontoon and rat-guards were on all the
mooring ropes, but a special door was erected at the ship end of the permanent gangway
leading from the pontoon to the quay.
By this time practically all the London cargo was discharged, but there remained
on board some 2,500 tons of cargo for Hamburg including about 20,000 cases of chilled
The Shipping Company were further informed that after the preliminary fumigation
all the cargo would have to be discharged, all rat-harbourage opened up and then
the vessel be fumigated again empty. After this the Hamburg cargo might be
Some discussion arose in regard to the 20,000 cases of chilled eggs and it was
agreed that the refrigerated space in which these eggs were contained should be omitted
from the first fumigation. It was further arranged that the fumigation should be
begun in the engine room so that the engineers might get back to maintain the
refrigeration of the eggs. It was, however, made clear that, thereafter, the eggs
would have to be discharged and the refrigerated spaces treated with the rest of the
ship at the final fumigation.

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