Smallpox Epidemic of 1887 - 1888 Transcript: Times, Nov - Dec 1887

Source: Times, Nov - Dec 1887

‘The outbreak of smallpox in Sheffield has assumed serious proportions ; as many as 150 fresh cases occur each week, and isolation is impossible on account of the hospital accomodation being quite inadequate. It has been decided to erect temporary buildings a few miles outside Sheffield to accomodate 80 cases, these being in addition to the two existing hospitals. At the meeting of the Town Council yesterday it was decided to close the lending department of all the free libraries in the town to prevent the spread of the disease by means of infection brought by books.’

‘For the last three months Sheffield has been suffering from a very serious epidemic of smallpox, which nonwithstanding the efforts of the authorities to isolate and stamp out the disease, has spread to every quarter of the town, and reached alarming proportions. The first case occurred in March, and in April several additional cases were reported. The disease began to assume a serious aspect about the middle of July. Towards the end of that month the cases became so numerous that the borough hospital had to be cleared of scarlet fever patients, and has since been used exclusively for persons suffering from smallpox, while the number of beds available for patients has been increased from 64 to 84. But notwithstanding these provisions a large proportion of cases occurring since September 1 have had to be treated at their own homes. Up to the 8th of October 668 cases had come to the knowledge of the Health Department, of which only 339 could be admitted into hospital. The numbers of cases reported to the Health Office during the last three months has been September 275, October 498, November ( first three weeks ), 394 ). There are, of course, other cases unknown to the authorities. Since the commencement of the epidemic, 1,540 cases have come to the knowledge of the Health Department, of which only 581 have been treated in hospital. The death rate has been – in the vaccinated in infancy, 5% ; in the unvaccinated, 48%. Among those vaccinated in infancy fatalities have occurred in the case of adults only – that is to say ; in such fatal cases a period of from 20 to 50 years has elapsed since vaccination. In this class too, complications have often precipitated a fatal termination. Of all the 581 cases received into hospital not one has been revaccinated. The hospital committee of the borough have purchased land a few miles out of the town on which to erect temporary premises for smallpox patients. Revaccination is general throughout the town.’

‘The Borough Hospital Committee have received a letter from the Local Government Board, stating that an inquiry with regard to the proposed loan for temporary hospital buildings at Redmires would be held on the 22nd inst. The committee, on the motion of the Mayor, have passed a resolution expressing their extreme disappointment at the delay of the Local Government Board in holding the inquiry, and informing them that the necessity for the provision of additional accommodation for smallpox patients is so urgent that, without wishing to appear to be wanting in respect to the Board, they feel bound to proceed at once with the erection of the temporary buildings at the proposed smallpox hospital at Lodgmore ( sic ). The committee thereupon accepted estimates for the erection of the hospital, which is expected, with the land to cost £12,000.