Chimney sweep woes and other stories

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3017 (Published 15 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3017

“Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust” sings the mourning Arviragus in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. There is something about the early death of dust and soot covered sweeps that has haunted poets and epidemiologists for centuries. The science of occupational medicine and carcinogenesis began with Percival Pott’s description of a chimney sweep’s scrotal cancer in 1775, and William Blake wrote of his “little black thing among the snow, crying ‘weep! weep!’ in notes of woe!” in Songs of Experience a few years later. The latest study of the woes of chimney sweeps comes from Sweden (Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2013, doi:10.1136/oemed-2013-101371) and shows that they have a higher rate of myocardial infarction than can be accounted for by known risk factors. A suitable poem is surely called for.

In days gone by, a British general practitioner woken up in the middle of the night to be told of a child with earache might say, “Give her a good dose of Calpol …

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