CHILDREN’S ILLNESSES AND EPIDEMICS
Before the importance of clean drinking water, hand washing and sanitation was understood, illnesses were quickly spread, especially in the closed environment of a school. Yoxford school was no exception and it was often closed because of illness.
Whooping cough was prevalent in July 1873, February 1883, July and September 1886. From 4th - 23rd April 1894 the school was closed by the Medical Authority. In 1896 there were outbreaks in April and December and on 16th of that month there were only ten infants attending school out of 37. School was closed again in January and February 1897. There was an outbreak in September of 1902 but then no further mention in the logbooks until October 1950 when there were only 83 children in school out of 146 for a mixture of whooping cough, colds and bad weather conditions. Whooping cough is bacterial and highly contagious. It is airborne, easily spread through coughs and sneezes, the infected person remaining infectious for about three weeks. There has been a vaccine since the 1920s.
There were many measles epidemics, the first mentioned in June 1875. In March 1878 two children died and three children were taken to the Blything Union Workhouse at Bulcamp as their mother had died. In May 1882, 38 children were away sick and from October measles was around for five weeks. Later outbreaks were in June and July 1891, July 1895, January 1896, May 1900 and January 1903. School was closed by the Sanitary Authority each time, for two or three weeks. On 16th July 1908 Dr Baylie visited, notifying that measles had broken out on Middleton Moor and it quickly arrived in Yoxford and again in May 1910. There were no further recordings in the logbooks until 1955 when on 22nd June the Infant Class attendance was only 27% owing to measles. Measles is a highly infectious viral disease. It is airborne and spread through coughs and sneezes. People are infectious from four days before or after the start of the rash. It has been a human disease since around 500 AD. It has been estimated that there have been around 200 million deaths worldwide from 1855 to 2005. 21 Strains of the virus have been identified. Licensed vaccines have been available since 1963.
Diphtheria was first mentioned in 1879 when there was an epidemic in October and the school was closed by desire of the Medical Officer of the District, Dr Pryce Morris. The following January there were more cases and a few deaths. On 24th July 1891 one girl died from the illness and in 1893 school was closed for a month in September/October. There were more cases in November 1910 and in February 1911 ‘Dr Pryce Morris visited the homes of children ill with bad throats’. By the following day there were 30 cases and on 14th the school was closed until 13th March, with 145 children attending. ‘The school Doctor visited and examined the throats of all children’. On 22nd November 1920 there was an outbreak of 11 cases and one child died. On 25th Dr. Forbes examined the throats of 150 children present. On 16th December 1947 Dr. Barns and the school nurse attended to give Diphtheria booster treatment. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection, symptoms varying from mild to severe and usually starting two to five days after exposure and are due to a toxin produced by the bacteria. The disease is usually spread by direct contact or by contaminated objects but can also be spread by people carrying the disease who have no symptoms themselves. Vaccines and immunisation programmes have been around since the 1930s but there are still fatalities around the world to this day.
Scarlet Fever was first mentioned in 1882, when it was around for most of the year. The Reverend Parr closed the school for a week in February but it broke out again in October. There was a case on Hogg Hill (now called Strickland Manor Hill) in November and no children were allowed to attend from there. Seemingly there were no further problems until 20th March 1899 when ‘the Medical Officer of Health visited to determine cause; advises all children with sore throat to stay home’. The next case was June 1901 then nothing until 9th September 1929 when there were five cases to report. Scarlet fever is bacterial (Streptococcus) and affects a small number of people suffering from ‘strep throat’ or strep skin infections. It is spread by coughs or sneezes or contaminated objects. There is no vaccine. Prevention is by good hand hygiene and avoiding contact with affected people. Antibiotics now prevent most complications.
The first mention of Mumps was in 1882 when it was extremely prevalent on 24th October and on 11th November ‘upwards of 70 children away with mumps’. In the winter of 1906/7 there was a large outbreak and the school was closed on 8th January by the Medical Officer. There were no other cases recorded in the logbooks. Mumps is a viral disease, symptoms occurring 16 to 18 days after exposure. It is highly contagious in the five days after onset of symptoms and easily spread by people in close proximity to others, as in a school environment. Mumps has been known since antiquity and was mentioned by Hippocrates in 400BC.
Attendance was poor on 9th December 1895 owing to Typhoid Fever in the village. There was a death on 12th and ‘many families keeping children away as precaution’. School was closed on 16th. Typhoid Fever, or Typhoid, is a bacterial infection due to a specific type of Salmonella. Symptoms vary from mild to severe, usually beginning six to 30 days after exposure. It is spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. Thus poor hygiene and sanitation are the main risk factors. There has been a vaccine since the late 19th C.
There were absences for Influenza, commonly known as flu, on 8th January 1900. The Medical Officer visited on 20th and closed the school and again on 2nd February until 17th. In January 1905 attendance was again poor and ‘the Attendance Officer visited homes of absentees and found them all ill’. On 21st October 1910 a girl died. Flu is a viral infection, symptoms usually appearing two days after exposure and lasting less than a week. The infection is mostly spread by coughs and sneezes over a short distance but also by contact with contaminated surfaces, followed by touching the mouth or eyes. A person may be infectious before exhibiting any symptoms. Vaccines are now available for those at high risk but only last one year
On 6th April 1903 there was Chicken Pox, also known as varicella, amongst the Infants. The next outbreak was in June/July 1906 but then no recordings until November 1930. There was a case on 22nd April 1964. Chicken pox is a highly contagious viral infection, symptoms occurring 10-21 days after exposure. It is airborne, spread by coughs and sneezes as well as by contact with anyone with a blistered skin rash.
On 14th December 1903 Charles Holmes, Standard II, died of Pneumonia ‘caused by state of paths from Willow Marsh to school. His last attendance 8th December. Reported to Parish Council’. On 25th April 1920 ‘Leslie Clements died today from Septic Pneumonia’.
On 18th September 1929 there was suspected Impetigo. Dr. Marriott informed the child that she might return to school. Attendance was poor the week ending 28th November 1930, ‘only 76% due principally to cases of Chicken Pox and Impetigo’. Impetigo is a bacterial infection, usually due to either Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes. It is spread by contact.
In the early 1950s there were regular visits by the ‘nit nurse’. Nurse Pearson called on 3rd May 1950 to find a girl ‘much cleaner’ and on 24th July she examined the heads of all the children. Two children had nits and she visited the parents. She found all the children clean when she visited on 27th February 1951. Nits are the eggs of head lice. Lice are parasites, head lice living on human blood and the only type of lice that live exclusively on humans. They cannot fly and spend their entire lifecycle on the host.
In July 1966 and again in July 1968 there were T.B. skin tests by the school doctor. Tuberculosis is an infectious bacterial infection, generally affecting the lungs. It was historically known as ‘consumption’ owing to its causing severe weight loss. It is airborne, spread by coughs and sneezes. The disease has existed since antiquity.
On 28th November 1882 a boy’s mother ‘brought a medical certificate showing the reason for his absence from school’.
In 1908 the School Doctor visited in the afternoon of 14th October (no name given) and on 18th November the school ‘received a weighing machine for School Doctor’.
In 1909 the School Doctor visited on 4th March to examine children admitted. On 4th October the school ‘received box of soap for scholars’ use; ceased disinfecting school every evening from this date’.
On 21st April 1910 a boy was excluded by the School Doctor for two months with ringworm. On 10th November there was a child with discharge from the ear, found by nurse Miss Snell.
On 15th February 1921 children were excluded from school ‘on account of verminous condition’.
In 1937 there was the first mention of a dental officer. On 9th December ‘Dental officer and assistant attended 9.30am to 3.45pm for extractions etc.’ On 3rd November 1952 ‘School Dental Officer (Mr S E Benfield) and attendant in attendance this morning examining the teeth of all children’. They were then in the school 17th-20th November all day each day treating children’s teeth. A Dental Officer was in attendance with a caravan from 6th-14th June 1955. The logbook entry for 23rd January 1963 comments ‘Dismal dental exams - parents are refusing treatment for their children, complaining ‘Children don’t want to!’ Mr Benfield visited for dental treatment 22nd and 23rd June 1966.
Water was clearly a problem. (In September of 1911 a new school well was sunk during the holiday and water was sent for analysis.) On 13th July 1938 ‘On advice of School Medical Officer, I have forbidden children to drink any water from the school tap’. On 19th September 1950 ‘Mr. H S Orford , Welfare Officer, called this morning as there is no water in the well at the school canteen, water is now being taken there daily by senior boys’. From 10th January 1956 water was supplied from the mains.
On 18th December 1947 an Inspector from the Public Health Department called to examine milk bottles at midday. On 3rd November 1954 the Assistant County Sanitary Inspector called to analyse a sample of school milk. In May 1957 ‘a circular letter has been sent to parents asking them to authorize the drinking or non-drinking of milk by their children. Result 110 out of 143 to have milk. Messrs. Morning have been instructed to supply 105 bottles accordingly’.
On 30th May 1952 Dr Kershaw and Miss Consett, nurse, were in attendance
The doctor commented on:
- The crowded conditions in the classrooms
- Inadequate washing accommodation and cloakroom accommodation for children.
- Lack of hot water supply.
‘I pointed out that there were no facilities for the staff in regard to washing and inadequate lavatory provision’.
The County Architect visited on 13th October to inspect the lack of washing facilities but it was not until September 1954 that ‘Two washrooms have been added to the back of the building with six wash basins in each. These are in use but the decoration of the places has still to be done, and the roofs completed’.
Hot water was not provided until 1965. In June 1966 new toilet plans were drawn up and in April 1967 there was an on-site visit for new indoor sanitation:
- staff toilets
- stockroom and new classrooms
- office for headteacher
- oil-fired central heating to be installed
From the early 1950s a speech therapist visited the school on a fortnightly basis. In March 1967 there was the first mention of hearing tests. In October 1968 and April 1969 Dr Imry visited for them and in November Mrs Tyler, audiometrician, visited for hearing tests for infants and sight and colour tests for all pupils. In 1969 the school doctor was Dr Tate. He attended for general medicals on 3rd and 10th June.