Human and animal health: strengthening the link: Politics and economics inhibited control of anthrax last century

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7529.1407-b (Published 08 December 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1407
  1. Tim Carter, research associate (tim.carter{at}virgin.net)
  1. Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT

    Editor—Anthrax was among the first zoonoses where human and animal differences in disease natural history and their interactions came into prominence. My recently completed study provides relevant national and local insights.1

    During 1900-14, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, had a very high incidence of anthrax from contaminated imported wools. Human cases arose in mill workers and others. There were animal outbreaks on the council sewage farm from wool washing water, and elsewhere from shoddy used as a fertiliser.2

    Three official bodies were concerned with different aspects: the national Factory Inspectorate with wool use in mills; the Board of Agriculture, through the county council, with animal disease; and the local government board, through the Kidderminster Council and its medical officer of health, with infectious disease. All were subject to political and economic compromise.

    • The Factory Inspectorate could not control East India wool for a decade because the Home Office quietly re-punctuated regulations after pressure from industry. The non-unionised Kidderminster mills were exempted from requirements previously agreed with trade unions in Bradford.

    • The Board of Agriculture considered that it was up to farmers to avoid the use of shoddy on pastoral land. Ironically one outbreak was on the farm of the town's largest manufacturer.

    • The medical officer of health's proposal for local anthrax notification was contested by an employer dominated council, as was his advice to cease keeping dairy cattle on the sewage farm. Poignantly, his horse died of anthrax while grazing there. He was incensed with the council because they had not taken the required precautions. The local government board was inactive.

    There was good scientific liaison. Locally the county analyst investigated, advised, and did bacteriology for all. Nationally cases were monitored, and there was veterinary and medical dialogue and research. The politics and economics of prevention inhibited action.


    • Competing interests TC's main paid work is as part-time chief medical adviser, Department for Transport. The work described was a separate project but was informed by his experience of administrative procedures in government.


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