Are Victorian diseases making a comeback?


A black and white image of a street in Victorian times, showing small courtyards with washing hanging and smog in the sky
Wellcome Assortment

You’ll have seen latest information tales that counsel ‘Victorian’ or ‘Dickensian’ ailments are making a comeback.

The truth is that they’ve by no means gone away, and it’s only by way of the mixed efforts of society, knowledgeable by sound science and public well being coverage, that the influence and unfold of an enormous number of infections, from scarlet fever to salmonella, tuberculosis (TB) to tick-borne infections, measles to meningitis, has been contained.

Developments akin to clear water, healthful meals, schooling, the arrival of antibiotics and vaccinations have meant progress over the past 150 years at containing and treating illness unfold has been substantial.

Nonetheless, there are nonetheless infections that on occasion can re-emerge or be re-introduced into the inhabitants to trigger main and minor public well being points, so experiences that a few of these are making a comeback aren’t fairly correct.

Within the UK some ailments have been eradicated and others nonetheless flow into at low charges and may periodically enhance or re-emerge as an issue.

On this weblog, we stroll by way of the information in regards to the high ailments that affected or killed many individuals within the Victorian period and at different factors in historical past.


Typhoid through the Victorian period was extremely widespread and stays so in components of the world the place there’s poor sanitation and restricted entry to wash water. No part of society was spared – Prince Albert the husband of Queen Victoria contracted typhoid and died from it.

Typhoid is attributable to Salmonella typhi and is normally unfold by the ‘faecal oral’ route – the organism is in urine and faeces and an individual turns into contaminated by consuming or consuming contaminated meals or water. Globally, it’s estimated 1 in 5 individuals with a typhoid an infection die if left untreated.

Entry to wash water and meals is the principle method of controlling this illness. Good private hygiene – washing palms after utilizing the bathroom and earlier than getting ready meals are additionally necessary to forestall unfold.  These seemingly easy steps, alongside entry to wash water and healthful meals have helped considerably cut back the unfold of typhoid fever in Britain.

Typhoid is rare within the UK now with an estimated 500 instances identified every year.

Most individuals develop the an infection after travelling overseas to locations like Bangladesh, India or Pakistan the place typhoid is circulating at increased ranges. It might be prevented by vaccination, if somebody is planning to journey to someplace that typhoid fever is widespread, and it may be handled with a course of antibiotics. It’s uncommon for individuals to die as a result of typhoid within the UK.

Scarlet fever

In 2018 there have been over 30,000 instances of scarlet fever in England and Wales – the best variety of instances reported since 1960. Numbers of instances dramatically diminished over the course of the final century, prone to be due partially to improved residing circumstances, together with the introduction of antibiotics.

Graph showing a steep decline in notifications and deaths of and caused by scarlet fever between 1901 and 2011

Scarlet fever is a extremely contagious illness that primarily impacts youngsters, however it’s not normally a critical sickness and is definitely treatable with antibiotics to scale back the chance of problems and unfold to others.

It was nonetheless quite common within the early a part of the 20th Century. The Lancet Infectious Diseases paper exhibits that through the 1914 epidemic peak, round 165,000 notifications and 2800 deaths from scarlet fever have been recorded.

In 2014 fewer than 5% of sufferers with scarlet fever have been admitted to hospital and there have been no deaths attributable to scarlet fever illustrating the way more extreme penalties of scarlet fever within the first half of the 20th century than as we speak.

There have been some experiences within the media that the latest rise in instances of scarlet fever is linked to austerity. Our data doesn’t present increased charges of scarlet fever in most disadvantaged areas in England, slightly that there have been will increase throughout the nation. As such, this hypothesis must be handled with warning with extra research wanted to totally examine.

We’re investigating attainable explanations as to why there have been extra scarlet fever instances over the previous couple of years, by learning the strains of micro organism inflicting illness, and learning the unfold of an infection in several settings and affected person teams.


On the daybreak of the 19th century, TB killed at the very least 1 in seven individuals in England.  Normal enhancements in well being akin to pasteurisation of milk (TB attributable to M bovis from milk used to kill as much as 2,000 individuals a yr) meant that quicker diagnoses and remedy with efficient antibiotics grew to become the mainstay of TB management.

At the moment, lower than 6% of these with TB are killed by the illness and we’re on the lowest numbers of TB ever, with slightly below 4,672instances reported in 2018. This substantial decline was caused by collaborative working with companions throughout the well being and social care system and represents a big victory for public well being in England.

However, we will’t take our foot off the pedal – globally WHO report that TB continues to be the primary infectious killer, particularly in additional disadvantaged communities, and work continues to be wanted if we’re to see TB charges proceed to lower in England and the world over. PHE, DFID and DHSC have been working with the UN to speed up efforts to finish TB worldwide.


The extreme dehydration ensuing from the diarrhoeal sickness attributable to cholera can kill wholesome adults inside hours, in contrast to the diarrhoeal sickness trigger by organisms akin to campylobacter and rotavirus.  The final 4 main outbreaks of Cholera in England have been between 1832 – 1866 and resulted in hundreds of deaths over brief spells of time.

It’s now very uncommon within the UK and any instances are related to journey to nations the place cholera continues to be an issue.

The general public well being turning level within the Victorian period got here when London doctor John Snow recognized that cholera was water borne and related to water contaminated with human faeces from individuals affected by cholera.  This led to the nice Victorian initiatives that have been to make sure the UK had clear water and a community of sewage methods – each of that are key public well being measures.

There are nonetheless cholera outbreaks in different components of the world and it stays a worldwide public well being concern. Since 2010 there have been outbreaks in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Algeria, and Yemen to call a number of.

World Well being Organisation present very complete prevention and control recommendations. PHE Porton are presently trying on the effectiveness of various disinfection strategies in opposition to the accountable micro organism, V. cholerae, with the purpose of offering higher choices for prevention of transmission of the illness.

It is rather simple to keep away from cholera whereas travelling to affected areas by solely utilizing or consuming water that has been boiled or bottled and washing your palms with cleaning soap and water earlier than consuming or consuming. There may be additionally a vaccine obtainable however most individuals don’t want it.

Whooping cough

Earlier than the introduction of routine immunisation within the 1950s, whooping cough used to have an effect on tens of hundreds of individuals. Due to vaccination this has dropped dramatically however the an infection hasn’t gone away utterly. Whooping cough is a cyclical illness which may peak each 3-Four years.

Regardless of the success of the vaccine programme, a rise in instances has been noticed in recent times with nearly 10,000 laboratory confirmed instances reported in 2012.

Different nations have additionally seen will increase in instances which is considered as a result of plenty of potential elements together with elevated skilled consciousness and growth of and entry to new assessments to diagnose whooping cough. As well as, the change in vaccine from entire cell to aceullar vaccine can also be thought-about to play a job.

Whooping cough impacts all ages, however for unimmunised infants and really younger youngsters it may be notably critical. In response to an outbreak in 2012, a vaccine programme for pregnant ladies was launched to guard their infants from beginning till they obtain their very own vaccines at 8,12 and 16 weeks of age. An additional dose is obtainable at preschool age.

The vaccination programme for pregnant ladies has been proven to be extremely efficient in stopping instances and deaths from whooping cough in younger infants beneath 2 months of age. It’s subsequently necessary to make sure and encourage ladies to get vaccinated, ideally between 20-32 weeks and for his or her infants to get vaccinated on the beneficial time

The vaccine stays one of the simplest ways to forestall critical illness and encouragingly greater than 95% of 2-year-olds in England have acquired their whooping cough vaccines.

So, are ‘Dickensian ailments’ making a comeback?

Illnesses that after have been a dying sentence for individuals within the 19th century are nonetheless identified in modern-day Britain. They by no means utterly disappeared.

Nonetheless, for probably the most half within the UK, “Dickensian ailments” are at nowhere close to the dimensions nor have the identical influence on public well being they as soon as did. And the excellent news is that each one will be preventable by way of both good hygiene, vaccination, or getting the proper vitamins.

It stays as necessary as ever that scientists and healthcare professionals examine, handle, and inform the general public about learn how to stop in opposition to ailments that might have a critical influence on well being and wellbeing.

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