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.
The banner headline in the South Wales Echo 50 years ago today:
‘Smallpox in Cardiff’. The Medical authorities appealed for all passengers on a train from Birmingham on 13 January to contact them.
‘Volunteers open lonely hospital’ . Minutes after the announcement of the disease ‘a group of volunteer nurses [from Tyntyla Hospital] were on their way to open the isolated Penrhys smallpox hospital.’