Contact tracing for Covid-19 – lessons from 1962

Nimrod Griffiths – Health Inspector in the front line in 1962. Photo (c) ITV Wales

Controlling the next phase of the 2020 coronavirus outbreak is likely to depend on contact tracing – tracking down anyone who has been in contact with a person showing symptoms of the virus.
It will involve tracing anyone who has come into close contact with someone who has tested positive and advising them to self-isolate to stop further spread.
There are lessons to be learned from one of the last big contact-tracing exercises – carried out almost 60 years ago during the smallpox outbreak of 1962.
The BBC published this report on 7 June 2020.

Volunteer nurse presented with engraved watch

This watch was presented to Violet Torode, who volunteered to nurse smallpox patients isolated at Heddfan Hospital near Bridgend during the 1962 outbreak.

The inscription reads ‘South Wales Smallpox Outbreak 1962 – Volunteer Nursing – Presented to Nurse Violet A Torode’. Nurse Torode’s grand-daughter, Sarah Raybould, contacted the site to ask whether we knew anything about these watches.

‘The watch is just beautiful and a mark of the gratitude from the authorities to the nursing staff who put their own lives at risk during this time,’ she said. ‘The watch still does keep time, when wound up, though it is too precious to our family to wear it often.

‘Mam Torode (my grandmother) did not speak much about that time, in fact, she kept her stories to herself, in most respects so mum did not know too much about her experience then.

‘My mum was actually doing her nursing training up in Hammersmith Hospital when her mother volunteered and she said it was not spoken about.  I asked her if she’d been worried, and she said with the little information she’d been given, she hadn’t really worried about her mum, so it must have been pretty hush hush.’

Last smallpox outbreak in Britain – 40 years ago

IN August 1978, Birmingham was the scene of the last case of smallpox in Britain.  Janet Parker, a medical photographer at the University of Birmingham, was accidentally infected with smallpox and later died at East Birmingham Hospital. Her illness was initially diagnosed as a drug rash, but soon afterwards pustules appeared on her body. Mrs Parker’s mother also developed smallpox, but survived. The ensuing investigation never established exactly how the smallpox virus had escaped from the university’s laboratory.

BBC report on the last death from Smallpox in the UK.

Baby isolated at East Glamorgan Hospital

Alan Bennett contacted Smallpox1962 with this moving report of the impact of the outbreak on his family, 51 years ago.

On 7 February 1962 my second daughter was born at East Glamorgan Hospital. Mother and daughter were released a week later. A midwife visited the baby for the next ten working days. My wife Joan became anxious towards the ends of the midwife’s visits she felt that there was something wrong with the baby. On the last day, expressing her concerns to the midwife, the midwife asked if the baby was feeding and sleeping normally. Yes. No problem then! As she was leaving, my wife still expressing her concern, the midwife decided to return to the baby to check her temperature. 103 and the baby was collected and returned to East Glamorgan Hospital alone. Continue reading

Smallpox site clocks up 20,000 hits in nine months

The Smallpox 1962 website recorded more than 20,000 hits between January and September 2012.  This is evidence of a widespread interest in the events of 1962 and the value of the online archive.  If new, relevant material comes to light, it will continue to be added to the site.  In the meantime it stands as a resource for anyone who wants to know about the last outbreak of smallpox in Britain.

Fighting smallpox in the laboratory

A vivid account of the work of scientists in combating the smallpox outbreak in 1962 has been sent to the site by Edward Meyrick, who went on to be Principal Scientific Officer at the Public Health Laboratory Service, Colindale.

He describes how – 50 years ago – the small team, based at Cardiff Royal Infirmary, used the only open-fronted safety cabinet in Wales to deal with potentially lethal samples. He also recalls the primitive protection and safety measures available when he had to visit smallpox patients in isolation.

See Laboratory in the front line.

BBC report brings thousands to smallpox site

The BBC news website ran a report on the Smallpox1962 project on 12 June.  The new publicity led to a record number of visits on the Smallpox1962 site on that day – with more than 1,100 page hits.  That record was broken on 13 June with more than 1,200 page hits.  All this shows the high level of interest in a story which affected almost everyone alive in South Wales 50 years ago.

‘All clear’ – end of smallpox outbreak – 21 May 1962

Fifty years ago today, the South Wales Echo carried the front page news that the third and final phase of the Welsh smallpox outbreak was over.

Six weeks after the unexplained infection of patients at Glanrhyd Hospital in Bridgend, the ‘all clear’ was given.

It had been four months since the start of the crisis, when a traveller from Pakistan arrived in Cardiff and was diagnosed with the disease. Shuka Mia survived, but 19 people died – six in the Llantrisant and Rhondda areas and 13 in Bridgend.

During that period, 900,000 people in south Wales were vaccinated and a huge operation was mounted to trace contacts and contain the outbreak.

This site has tracked the story day by day, 50 years later. Over the past four months, it has registered more than 11,000 page hits and more than 50 people have contacted us with their personal recollections. You can read their stories and listen to audio recordings of some of them.

Smallpox1962 will continue as an online archive of an event which touched the lives of everyone in south Wales 50 years ago.

Keep on bowling – new audio

Photo: Smallpox 1962

In 1962 Jim Morgan was assistant secretary of the Welsh Indoor Bowls Association. One of his jobs was to assist in the staging of the Home International matches between Wales, England and Scotland. He recalls how the smallpox outbreak impacted on sporting and social arrangements at the time.

Listen to his memories.