Laboratory in the front line

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Cardiff Royal Infirmary (Photo: (C) Steve Chapple [Creative Commons])

In 1962 the Virology Department of the Public Health Laboratory Service Cardiff was housed in the Pathology Department of the Cardiff Royal Infirmary (now demolished). At the time it was the only dedicated Virology Laboratory in Wales and, as such, did all the diagnostic work for the 1962 smallpox outbreak.

All this work was carried out on the third floor of the then Department of Pathology by Dr Arthur D. Evans, Consultant Virologist, and myself as Senior Medical Laboratory Scientist.

This was, of course, before the days of formal classification of microbes according to risk and the provision of high containment facilities for handling them. We had to rely on a single open-fronted safety cabinet (the only one in Wales at the time) and good laboratory practice in the handing of the three episodes at Cardiff, Rhondda & Llantrisant, and Glanrhyd.

During these outbreaks we must have handled some 150 samples, most, fortunately, proving to be negative but sadly those from some 45 patients proving positive.

Both Dr. Evans and I were, in addition to doing all the laboratory work, involved with specimen collection. I vividly remember going to the isolation hospital at Penrhys, among others, and dressed in what then passed for protective clothing, having to obtain samples of lesion material from very ill patients and then having to pass through Lysol foot baths to disinfect myself before leaving the hospital. Primitive by today’s standard but effective.

Edward Meyrick
Formerly Principal Scientific Officer
Public Health Laboratory Service
Colindale

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