Anthrax and the Edwardians

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Anthrax and the Edwardians tells of attitudes to an infection that could be fatal. The period is the two decades before the First World War. The setting is the county of Worcestershire, where the wool-spinning and carpet-manufacturing town of Kidderminster was an infection black spot. However, human cases and outbreaks in animals also arose elsewhere in the county. Anthrax in industrial workers resulted from increased global trade in wool, hair and hides. These often came from regions where anthrax was common and sometimes carried anthrax spores.


Events are presented from the perspectives of eleven people, including victims and their relatives, employers, officials, and health experts. Opinions differed on the importance of the infection and on the measures needed to prevent cases. The high rate of anthrax in Kidderminster compared with other centres of wool processing largely went unrecognised at the time.


There are many similarities between the responses to anthrax just over a century ago and those to other more recent infections, especially where infection control measures conflict with economic pressures. The lack of detailed and timely investigation to find those who are at greatest risk of infection also has recent parallels.


Anthrax and the Edwardians provide a mirror in which to reflect on the current attitudes and responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Tim Carter has had a career specialising in the prevention of occupational health risks. He has worked both in industry and in government. For fifteen years he was the senior doctor in the Health and Safety Executive. More recently he has advised on transport safety, especially the health of seafarers. In the UK, he was medical adviser to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. He also worked internationally, as a special adviser to UN agencies and as a professor at the Norwegian Centre for Maritime and Diving Medicine. Anthrax and the Edwardians presents findings from a thesis he wrote in 2005, while developing his current retirement interest in historical research.

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