OUTBREAK AT CHILDREN’S HOSPITALIT 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.