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Ministry of Health Reports on Public Health and Medical Subjects, No 11: Report on Encephalitis Lethargica

Nature volume 110, pages 626627 (11 November 1922) | Download Citation



T HE report on the subject of encephalitis lethar1gica, recently issued by the Ministry of Health, has a wider than medical interest, as illustrating the still considerable range of disease, of which our knowledge is so partial that preventive action is almost entirely impracticable. This “new disease”appears to have been first recognised as distinct from other recognised diseases by Von Economico in Vienna in the year 1917. In the early part of 1918 cases were simultaneously reported in Sheffield and London, and prompt action for their investigation was undertaken by the Local Government Board, altogether some 230 cases being recognised during the first six months of that year. The symptoms of this disease, comprising somnolence, from which the patient is roused with difficulty, paralysis of ocular and other muscles, as their most marked features, bore some resemblance to those associated with botulism, and the first task of the earlier investigation was to eliminate the food poisoning to which botulism is due as a cause of the symptoms. This point the earlier official investigations definitely settled. A more difficult question was to decide whether-as was influentially urged-the disease was not a variant of poliomyelitis, which had been recently epidemic, especially among children.

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