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

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Shoreditch 1859

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Shoreditch, Parish of St. Leonard]

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by excessive cold. Cold does not generally kill immediately, but the
diseases it produces, mostly only terminate fatally after the lapse of
several days. Hence the effects of the cold weeks at the beginning and
end of the year, are seen in the mortality tables of the ensuing weeks.
The deaths from the cold of January will thus be recorded in the year;
whilst the deaths from the cold of the end of December, will swell the
mortality of the first quarter of 1860. Thus it is that cold has left such
light traces of its depressing influence on the records of 1859. On the
other hand, the extreme heat of July produced an excess of deaths from
Diarrhoea, but not enough to neutralise the saving of life due to the mildness
of the winter months.
Prevalence of Sickness.—Table IV. presents a summary view of the new
cases of sickness which came under the care of the Medical Officers of the
Board of Guardians during the year 1859. These comprise a total of
10,073 eases. Many of course are re-entries, and refer to the same
persons coming on the books more than once during the year. During
the preceding year (1858) the gross number was 12,538. A dimunition
in the number of applications for Poor Law Medical Relief so marked,
undoubtedly confirms the indications drawn from the mortality tables as
to the improvement in the health of the district. But many causes concur
to render this an imperfect test. With regard to particular diseases, we
observe that 402 cases of Small Pox were treated; 266 cases of Scarlatina ;
875 cases of Diarrhoea; 1615 cases of Fever ; 1067 cases of Lung Disease ;
498 cases of Skin Disease ; and 180 Accidents. With reference to Fever
cases, it is to be remembered that in the sickness returns the word
"Fevers" and "Febrile" are necessarily used as indefinite terms to
embrace a large number of cases which have no relation to Fever properly
so-called. This remark does not apply to an equal extent to the
mortality returns.
The Thames-Theory of Disease.—As experience has now done ample
justice to the theory that the Thames was a source of disease, I need do
no more than advert to the subject very briefly. The theory never had a
foundation in sound medical science or skilled observation. It was the
offspring of unreasoning alarm. Since the date when I first, in my reports
to your body, challenged the advocates of this theory to produce the
evidence on which they founded their creed, the most competent

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