The Gresham Lectures on Physic

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    THE Hilary Term Course of Lectures on Physic were delivered at the Gresham College, Babinghall Street, by Dr Syrnes Thompson, on the evenings of the 17th and 18th ult., and the subject of the discourses upon this occasion was the important and interesting one of Contagious and Infectious Diseases. The professor started on his career of familiar explanation by describing two recent instances of outbreak of infectious disease in rural districts, in which the introduction and march of the fell agent of communication through the ranks of the small community could be distinctly traced. In the one case, the infection of scarlet fever was brought to the village of Flindon, in Hampshire, by a girl who came from Worthing, and served in a small general shop which was resorted to by all the villagers. Only two houses in the village that had children in them, escaped from the disease. In the other case, enteric fever was taken to Whitchurch, in Hampshire, by a young woman from Basingstoke, who returned to Basingstoke to die, after only six days' sojourn in Whitchurch. The fever, nevertheless, spread from the house in which she stayed, and within the next seven months there were seventy cases of enteric fever in a small community numbering only 1,450 people. The instance at Whitchurch acquired especial importance and interest, because it was made the ground for an investigation and report by the Local Government Board, which now concerns itself with matters of this class. The inspector, Dr. Thorne, found that the place had been remarkably healthy until the potential cause, or infection, of the fever was conveyed to it by this chance visitant; but that it was most cunningly and elaborately prepared to receive and energise the deadly influence when once it came in the way. About one-third of the town stands upon the porous gravel of the alluvial bed of the river Test, and into this gravel, side by side, shallow wells were dug, to furnish the place with water, and pits were hollowed for the reception of all kinds of refuse filth and exuviæ incident to the conditions of life obtaining with a town community. Special care seems to have been taken to place the wells at a somewhat lower level than the pits containing the sources of pollution, whenever this was possible, as if to make sure that the liquid refuse should run into the reservoirs of the water; and in a few road-drains that had been laid down in the streets, commodious catch-pits were provided, to serve as traps and lurking-places for the offensive waste. Piggeries and small manure-yards were profusely scattered through the streets; and when once the enteric disorder had appeared, in order that it might have the fairest possible field for its operations, it became in some instances the practice to put sound people to bed with relatives actually suffering from the fever. In the case of Whitchurch, it amounts almost to a demonstration that the bowel discharges of the chance visitant from Basingstoke, containing the poison of enteric fever, must have been passed immediately into the water that was provided for the general service of the town; and that an exhaustless supply of the particular pabulum that is required for the elaboration of fresh quantities of the poison for the propagation of the malady, was kept ready on hand with the poison and the water. Enteric fever came by chance to the neighbourhood of Whitchurch; but, once there, it cannot be said that it made itself at home, and spread through the houses of the community by chance. The most elaborate provision had been made in the township to secure for it an easy resting–place, and a ready path of dissemination.

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    The Gresham Lectures on Physic . Nature 7, 283–284 (1873) doi:10.1038/007283d0

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