Infez Med. 2017 Sep 1;25(3):285-291.
Infection, contagion and causality in Colonial Britain: the 1889-90 influenza pandemic and the British Medical Journal.

Kousoulis AA1, Tsoucalas G2.
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The influenza pandemic of 1889 was the first truly global flu outbreak in scope. Characterised by high morbidity and low mortality, it spread rapidly across Europe and the rest of the world along trading routes. It reached mainland Britain in December 1889. The responses of medical practitioners in Britain and the British colonies to the pandemic were heavily featured in the British Medical Journal and reveal a confusing picture around causality, contagion and infection. Cases from the colonies (Cape Town, India, Australia, Samoan Islands, Hong Kong) as presented in the journal are explored in an attempt to reconstruct the mainstream medical belief of the time. The evidence sadly shows a lack of confidence in contagionism, almost complete absence of monocausalism and a vague picture of the epidemic constitution. Original case studies from colonial medical officers as well as editorials triggered a debate in the pages of the BMJ. In this context, the journal succeeded in playing a key role in recording the first thoroughly documented attack of influenza. In a world that was only learning to be interconnected, the BMJ became the point of reference for the British medical establishment, which ranged from London to Scotland and from Africa and India to Oceania.

PMID: 28956550
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