Bubonic plague not spread by rats, but peo­ple

● Hu­mans likely to have spread one of the last sig­nif­i­cant out­breaks of dis­ease

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By CHRIS GREEN

An out­break of bubonic plague in Glas­gow that claimed 16 lives and sparked wide­spread panic was prob­a­bly spread by peo­ple and not rats, new re­search has found.

The spread of the dis­ease in Au­gust 1900 was one of the last sig­nif­i­cant out­breaks recorded in the UK.

Re­searchers found an un­usu­ally high num­ber of sec­ondary plague in­fec­tions oc­curred be­tween mem­bers of the same house­hold, in­di­cat­ing body lice or hu­man fleas may have been to blame rather than rats.

One of the last sig­nif­i­cant out­breaks of bubonic plague recorded in the UK is likely to have been spread by hu­mans rather than rats as pre­vi­ously thought, ac­cord­ing to new re­search.

The out­break in Glas­gow in Au­gust 1900 was rel­a­tively small, with only around 36 known cases and 16 deaths, but caused wide­spread panic due to the sever­ity of pre­vi­ous in­ci­dents.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties sent out teams of rat catch­ers to tar­get the sus­pected cause of the spread, as well as tak­ing other mea­sures such as sus­pend­ing fu­neral wakes in case hu­man con­tact was re­spon­si­ble.

There were also calls for a mass dis­in­fec­tion of the city’s trams and fer­ries and even the coins in peo­ple’s pock­ets, due to the per­ceived risk of con­ta­gion.

At the time most of the med­i­cal com­mu­nity be­lieved that rats were to blame for the spread, but more than a cen­tury later a team of sci­en­tists has come up with a dif­fer­ent ex­pla­na­tion.

Us­ing his­tor­i­cal med­i­cal records, the re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Oslo in Nor­way man­aged to re­con­struct the plague’s likely trans­mis­sion net­works in 1900.

They found that an un­usu­ally high num­ber of sec­ondary plague in­fec­tions oc­curred be­tween mem­bers of the same house­hold, sug­gest­ing that

body lice or hu­man fleas may have been to blame.

“Given the ab­sence of ev­i­dence for plague in the rat pop­u­la­tion and the ob­served case pat­tern, the bubonic plague out­break in Glas­gow is likely to be the re­sult of hu­man-to-hu­man trans­mis­sion,” they wrote in the royal so­ci­ety open sci­ence jour­nal.

Dr Clif­ford Wil­liamson, a his­tory lec­turer at Bath Spa Univer­sity who has stud­ied the Glas­gow out­break in de­tail, de­scribed the find­ings as “fas­ci­nat­ing”.

“At this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment [in his­tory], all the at­ten­tion was on the rats,” he said.

“There was only pass­ing in­ter­est taken in the role of fleas.”

When the first Glas­gow plague cases were recorded, the doc­tor in­volved noted that there were flea bites on at least one of the vic­tims, but this was not viewed as par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant.

De­spite its fo­cus on rats, Dr Wil­liamson said the city’s au­thor­i­ties ul­ti­mately “dodged a bul­let” through the use of quar­an­tin­ing and ba­sic hu­man san­i­ta­tion mea­sures, which proved highly ef­fec­tive.

In one case, more than 100 peo­ple who at­tended the wake of a fish hawker who died of the plague were quar­an­tined

in a “re­cep­tion house” so they could be mon­i­tored.

“Al­most through ig­no­rance they got this sorted out,” Dr Wil­liamson added.

“It had all the clas­sic con­di­tions for a mass out­break of bubonic plague... but through med­i­cal vig­i­lance, lo­cal au­thor­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion and pub­lic in­for­ma­tion, they man­aged to nip it in the bud.”

The Glas­gow out­break was part of what was known as the “third pan­demic” of bubonic plague, with other places in­clud­ing China, Hong Kong, Mada­gas­car, Hawaii and Aus­tralia also af­fected.

0 There were calls for a mass dis­in­fec­tion of Glas­gow’s trams and the coins in peo­ple’s pock­ets, due to the per­ceived risk of con­ta­gion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.