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Diseases in United Kingdom


Infectious diseases

The Public Health Acts contain important provisions relating to infectious disease. Any person who knows he is suffering from an infectious disease must not carry on any trade or business unless he can do so without risk of spreading the disease.

Local authorities may require premises to be cleansed and disinfected; they may order the destruction of bedding, clothing or other articles which have been exposed to infection; they may provide proper places for the disinfection of infected articles free of charge; they may provide ambulances, &c. In the case of a person found suffering from infectious disease who has not proper lodging or accommodation, or is lodging in a room occupied by more than one family, or is on board any ship or vessel, such person may by means of a justice’s order be removed to a hospital; a local authority may pay the expenses of a person in a hospital or, if necessary, provide nursing attendance; any person exposing himself or any other in his charge while suffering from infectious disease, or exposing infected bedding, clothing or the like, is made liable to a penalty. Owners and drivers of public conveyances must not knowingly convey any person suffering from infectious disease, and if any person suffering from such a disease is conveyed in any public vehicle the owner or driver as soon as it comes to his knowledge must give notice to the medical officer. It is also forbidden to let houses or rooms in which infected persons have been lodging, or to make false statements to persons negotiating for the hire of such rooms.

An act was passed in the year 1890, called the Infectious Diseases Prevention Act. When adopted it enabled an urban or district council to obtain the inspection of dairies where these were suspected to be the cause of infectious disease, with a view to prohibiting the supply of milk from such dairies if the fact were established. The act of 1907 extended the provisions of the act of 1890. It enables a local authority to require dairymen to furnish a complete list of sources of supply if the medical officer certifies that any person is suffering from infectious disease which he has reason to suspect is attributable to milk supplied within his district. It also compels dairymen to notify infectious diseases existing among their servants. The act of 1890 also forbids the keeping for more than forty-eight hours of the body of a person who has died of infectious disease in a room used at the time as a dwelling-place, sleeping-place or workshop. It provides for the bodies of persons dying of infectious diseases in a hospital being removed only for burial, and gives power to justices in certain cases to order bodies to be buried. The diseases to which the act applies are smallpox, cholera, membranous croup, erysipelas, scarlatina or scarlet fever, typhus, typhoid, enteric, relapsing, continued or puerperal fever, and any other infectious disease to which the act has been applied by the local authority of the district in the prescribed manner.

The most important provision, however, relating to infectious disease is that contained in the Infectious Disease Notification Act 1889. That was originally an adoptive act, but it is now extended to all districts in England and Wales. It requires the notification to the medical officer of health of the district of every case in which a person is suffering from one of the diseases above mentioned. The duty of notification is imposed upon the head of the family, and also upon the medical practitioner who may be in attendance on the patient. The medical attendant is entitled to receive in respect of each notification a fee of 2s. 6d. if the case occurs in his private practice, and of 1s. if the case occurs in his practice as medical officer of any public body or institution. These fees are paid by the urban or rural district council as the case may be. The provisions as to notification are applied to every ship, vessel, boat, tent, van, shed or similar structure used for human habitation in like manner as nearly as may be as if it were a building. Exception is made, however, in the case of a ship, vessel or boat belonging to a foreign government. It is not too much to say that this act has been one of the most effectual 438 means of preventing the spread of infectious disease in modern times.


The district council are empowered to provide hospitals or temporary places for the reception of the sick. They may build them, contract for the use of them, agree for the reception of the sick inhabitants of their district into an existing hospital, or combine with any other district council in providing a common hospital. As has already been mentioned when dealing with county councils, if a district council make default in providing hospital accommodation, the county council may put in operation the Isolation Hospitals Act. The power given to provide hospitals must be exercised so as not to create a nuisance, and much litigation has taken place in respect of the providing of hospitals for smallpox. Up to the present time, however, the courts have refused to accept as a principle that a smallpox hospital is necessarily a source of danger to the neighbourhood, and for the most part applications for injunction on that ground have failed.


Where any part of the country appears to be threatened with or is affected by any formidable epidemic, endemic or infectious disease, the Local Government Board may make regulations for the speedy interment of the dead, house-to-house visitation, the provision of medical aid and accommodation, the promotion of cleansing, ventilation and disinfection, and the guarding against the spread of disease. Such regulations are made and enforced by the district councils. The provisions of the Public Health Acts relating to infectious disease are for the most part extended to ships by an act of the year 1885.


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  • Article Name: Diseases
  • Author: MacCallum
  • Description: History Infectious diseases The Public Health Acts contain important provisions relating to infectious disease. Any [...]

This entry was last updated: November 7, 2016


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