Posted by: Didapper PJ21 MAY 2014
Britain’s last major outbreak of typhoid fever occurred 50 years ago this summer. The first two cases were identified on 20 May 1964. Eventually some 500 victims were diagnosed.
The outbreak was confined to Aberdeen, where patients were treated in quarantine conditions at local hospitals. The incident was handled well, and there were no deaths. But most patients spent weeks in isolation before being allowed home. No visitors were allowed, and relatives and friends could only wave to patients through sealed windows.
The outbreak was traced to a single large can of Fray Bentos corned beef supplied to the local branch of the William Low grocery chain. But it was not only purchasers of corned beef who became ill, since the infected product also contaminated the store’s meat-slicing machine.
It turned out that the meat was packed in a South American factory that used untreated water from a polluted river to cool its cans. Bacteria probably entered the defective can through a puncture or a faulty seam.
The typhoid outbreak was disastrous for William Low’s local reputation. The Aberdeen branch soon closed, and the company never returned to the city.
Even where the risk of further infection was negligible, the outbreak also ruined local firms that were unlucky enough to have a family member among the typhoid victims.
On the plus side, the event led to the introduction of higher national standards for hygiene, particularly in the cleaning of food processing machinery.
The 50th anniversary of this event offers a reminder that typhoid remains a risk. Worldwide the disease still kills well over half a million people every year.
And in recent years Britain has seen a steady increase in cases, mainly in people who have visited exotic overseas destinations without adequate vaccination. The UK now annually treats several hundred typhoid cases.