Thursday, July 16, 2015
Remembering the Outbreak of ME in the Royal Free Hospital on the 13th of July 1955
Sixty years ago on this very day, July 13th 1955, a resident doctor and a ward sister became ill in the Royal Free Hospital. It was the start of the outbreak of a mysterious disease, which would become known as the Royal Free Disease, one of the most famous and well-documented outbreaks of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis(ME).
What follows is an excerpt from the book “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Postviral Fatigue States – The saga of Royal Free Disease” by Melvin Ramsay.
On July 13th 1955 a resident doctor and a ward sister on the staff of the Royal Free Hospital were admitted to the wards with an obscure illness.
By July 25th more than 70 members of the staff were similarly affected and it was plain that there was in the hospital an epidemic of a highly infectious nature producing, among other things, manifestations in the central nervous system. Because of the threat to the health of patients, and because of the large number of nurses involved, the hospital closed on that date and remained closed until October 5th. By that time the epidemic was almost over although sporadic cases appeared up to November 24th.
Between July 13th and November 24th, 292 members of the medical, nursing, auxiliary medical, ancillary and administrative staff were affected by the illness and of these, 255 were admitted to hospital; 37 nurses were looked after at home or admitted to other hospitals from their home.
It is remarkable that, although the hospital was full at the time of the epidemic, only 12 patients who were already there developed the disease.