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Maritime medical guide

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The ‘Ship captain’s medical guide’ is intended for use on ships that have no doctor on board or in situations such as expeditions where professional medical advice is not readily available. The current 22nd edition is available as a book or can be downloaded free from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency section of the Department for Transport website (or, for a small fee, from the iTunes app store for use on the iPhone or iPad).

The guide gives advice on first aid, general nursing, hygiene and the prevention and treatment of disease. It is used alongside the current statutory Merchant Shipping Notice, which lists the medical equipment and drugs carried on UK vessels together with their uses, potential side effects and precautions.

Some of the guide’s advice is unlikely to be offered in the average community pharmacy. For example, chapter 8, “Diseases of fishermen”, advises on tit juice conjunctivitis (caused by tiny sharp silicon particles that might enter the eye when certain marine growths burst open in the net) and Dogger Bank itch (an allergic skin condition caused by contact with a plant known to fishermen as curly weed found around the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea and near the coasts of Scotland and Norway). Chapter 12 explains how to arrange a burial at sea.

Earlier editions of the guide (first published by the Board of Trade in 1868) included useful diagnostic tables to enable a layman to differentiate between the symptoms of diseases such as typhoid fever and typhus fever, simple malarial fever (ague) and pernicious (remittent) malarial fever or between measles, German measles and scarlet fever. They also included advice on how to differentiate horse flesh from that of the ox  (which might be still relevant in some places) and how to use remedies such as nitrate of potash fumes to treat asthma (“throw a towel over the patient’s head and set fire to one of these dried strips under his nose. . .”.

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