Bradford childrens hospital Betty Longbottom

Bradford Children’s Hospital (Photo: (C) Betty Longbottom [Creative Commons])

IT WAS 11 January when the Medical Officer of Health for Bradford, Dr John Douglas, was called to see a patient at the Leeds Road hospital for infectious diseases. She was the resident cook on the children’s ward at Bradford Children’s Hospital and had fallen ill on 6 January, complaining of headache and backache. By 9 January she had developed what was described as ‘a generalised, bright red scarlatini-form rash’. By the time Dr Douglas came to see her she was too ill to be moved to a smallpox hospital and she died next day (12 January). But a pathologist noticed a similarity between a blood sample from the cook and one he had examined from a man who had been admitted to St Luke’s hospital in the city on 10 January and who died in the early hours of 11th. Dr Douglas and a member of the smallpox panel went to the mortuary and concluded that a diagnosis of smallpox was justified. Laboratory tests confirmed that both deaths were due to the virus. But how had they caught it?

It soon became clear that the answer must lie in the Children’s Hospital, where the dead woman had worked. The male victim had visited the hospital, where his child was a patient in a side room next to Ward A1.  On the day he died, it was realised that four children on that ward had developed rashes and were probably suffering from smallpox. A fifth case was discovered – a two-year-old girl who had been transferred off the ward to Wharfedale Children’s Hospital at Menston; visiting at that hospital was suspended and staff were barred from using public transport.

A nurse from the Children’s Hospital, who’d fallen ill on 8 January, had been admitted to Leeds Road Fever Hospital on the 11th with a ‘maculo-papular’ rash. Smallpox was diagnosed and on January 12, she was transferred to Oakwell Isolation Hospital at Birstall, where the five children had been sent the day before. Another child, who had been discharged from Ward A.1 at the children’s Hospital on 3 January joined them on the 14th after falling ill and developing a rash. Oakwell was staffed by volunteers who nursed the patients. Despite their best efforts, two of the five children died.

>> Death by post-mortem

9 thoughts on “Yorkshire

  1. Jacqui commented on the Bradford outbreak:
    I was the small child in Case 2 from the Bradford outbreak who had been in the Bradford Children’s hospital, in the bed next to the poor Pakistani child. The person who was actually Case number 2 was my father, who’d visited me whilst I was in hospital in December of 1961. My father passed away in January 1962.
    [Details of ‘Case 2’, Jacqui’s father, are included in the report of pathologist Derrick Tovey, published by the Royal Society of Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1079469/ ]

    • My grandfather was Dr. Douglas, the medical officer of health during the outbreak. I’m happy to hear you’re alive and well, as I grew up with stories about this event.

      • I worked with Fiona Douglas, a physiotherapist at St James Hospital in Leeds from 1978 to 1983. Are you related to her? Her father was a GP in Bradford.

  2. I was in Wharfedale Childrens Hospital when this outbreak occurred – Drake Ward. A boy from Ravensthorpe caught smallpox. We were in isolation for weeks. All possessions destroyed afterwards.

    • Hello Philip, I should have been in Drake ward at the time too – but for some reason was at home when the outbreak occured. Was the lad from Ravensthorpe called Geoff Senior?

      • My mother was Hilda Frost, the ward sister on Elizabeth Ward. I had to stay off school for several days when the outbreak happened.

      • Replying to Hugh Frost. I was on your Mum’s Ward at the time (Sister Frost). I remember we were immunised during one night. Your Mum was a very kind & caring person.

  3. Hello, I am researching the Bradford Childrens Hospital for 1964.
    My brother was in the round ward.
    Does anyone have any memories, information or photographs please?
    Kindest Regards

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