Query: Erysipelas

William deJong-Lambert's picture

I was recently reading an article, "The Edinburgh Fever Hospital," published in the Aug. 20, 1898 issue of The British Medical Journal. The article says that the hospital will contain a ward for patients suffering from erysipelas, noting that many fever hospitals didn't take patients with this infection. I am wondering why it would be the case that a fever hosptal that treated typhoid, typhus, scarlett fever etc. would not, however, want to treat erysipelas. 

Anyone who can provide insight into this topic please contact William deJong-Lambert at William.deJong-Lambert@bcc.cuny.edu



Categories: Query

Erysipelas was considered at that time to be a “nosocomial infection” (as we would call it today) – an ailment arising in health care settings. It was not an epidemic disease per se affecting the population, but one that arose mainly in hospitals. The “Fever Hospitals” were intended as repositories for infections arising in the community (scarlet fever, typhoid, etc.) as a means of managing their spread among the public. So, an erysipelas patient would most likely have been a person recovering from surgery who most likely contracted it in hospital or workhouse – not the conventional candidate for the fever hospital. Fever hospitals did not take all infectious diseases; tuberculosis for example was excluded too. But the Edinburgh Hospital at this time, like many fever hospitals, were broadening the type of cases admitted. It was around 1900 that measles and whooping cough started to be admitted as a public health measure. However, the decision to admit erysipelas was probably more of a gesture on the part of fever hospital officials to position the institution as a useful sanitary adjunct to the general hospital. The fact that these were to be placed in a separate ward reflects the understanding that this infection could potentially spread throughout the fever hospital. The strict separation of different diseases within fever hospitals was a relatively new idea in 1898.

- Matthew Newsom Kerr
Associate Professor of History
Santa Clara University
Contagion, Isolation and Biopolitics in Victorian London