Wednesday, 30 October 2013

London’s Pulse from the Wellcome Library: Medical Officer of Health reports freely available online.

The Wellcome Library has launched London’s Pulse, providing free online access to digitised versions of more than 5500 Medical Officer of Health Reports covering the City of London, 32 present-day London boroughs and their predecessors from 1848 to 1972.

The Medical Officer of Health (MOH) reports provide statistical data about births, deaths and diseases, but also give a fascinating insight into the diversity of the local communities and the personal interests and concerns of the individual Medical Officers of Health themselves. The reports offer a rich source of material for public health research.


Image: Sir John Simon, first Medical Officer of Health for the City of London, serving from 1848 until 1855.
Credit: LSHTM PhotoLibrary.

As well as access to the reports themselves, London’s Pulse allows data from the reports to be downloaded in a variety of formats. The resource also offers additional contextual information about the role of the Medical Officers of Health and the evolving environment in which they worked.
London’s Pulse is available at

The Wellcome Library also holds printed MOH reports from across the rest of the United Kingdom. Details can be found via the Wellcome Library Catalogue at

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Library Opening Hours Thursday 31st October 2013

Due to the industrial action taking place on Thursday 31st October, the Library will be open between 8.30am and 12pm only on that day.

The Library will re-open as usual at 8.30am on Friday 1st November.

Monday, 21 October 2013

US Government Shutdown and MEDLINE updates

As you may already know, Ovid MEDLINE and PubMed were not updated during the recent US Government Shutdown. Ovid MEDLINE has not been updated since 2 October.

Therefore, on 23 October a larger update than normal will be published in order to catch-up. If you have alerts set up with MEDLINE, you may receive more results than normal.

After 23 October, the updating procedure will return to normal.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Peter Piot and the Ebola outbreak in the Yambuku in 1976

Within the archives of Peter Piot, surrounded by decades of material surrounding HIV/AIDS was a small box file, simply entailed, ‘Ebola’. Within it were papers relating to his work with the International Medical Commission in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to investigate an unknown hemorrhagic fever that erupted spontaneously in 1976. The disease infected 318 people, killing 280 people in a two month period. It’s lethalness was only rivalled by that of rabies and spread widespread fear across the region. As a junior member of the Department of Microbiology Department at the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Peter Piot’s life and career was dramatically affected by the emergence of this terrifying epidemic.

Newspaper cutting of the ITM team with Guido van der Groen, Peter Piot and Dr Stefaan Pattyn

The story of Piot’s involvement is comprehensively told in his memoir, No Time to Lose, but his archives convey the scope of his epidemiological work within the Yambuku region. Piot became a member of the International Medical Commission after the he and his colleagues at the ITM had identified a new virus from the blood samples taken from the Flemish nun who had caught the disease. What is truly terrifying about the account is the lack of precautions that were taken with the highly infectious blood from it turning up, semi-thawed in a thermos couriered on a passenger airline to the almost accidental contamination of one of his colleagues when a test tube of the virus smashed onto the floor and covered the shoes of his colleague, Rene Delgadillo. 

Electron microscope image of the Ebola virus

The alarming reports from Zaire along with the identifying a lethal new virus caused the World Health Organisation to mobilise an International Commission to investigate and contain the outbreak. Members of the ITM were drafted in to go to Kinshasa and Piot was one of them. He was a relative novice at the time and had not been to Africa nor even had a valid passport (having cut out the picture for a squash membership card). However, he leapt at the opportunity to go and reached Kinshasa on October 18th. President Mobutu Sese Seko had ordered the entire Bamba region to be quarantined and there was no information from the region regarding the severity of the epidemic. It was agreed that a small expeditionary team would go in and investigate; Peter Piot volunteered to be on it.

The archives note the epidemiological procedures the expeditionary party took during this period. Using they’re airlifted land rovers to visit local hospital and affected villages the team same came to some preliminary conclusions about the epidemic. Firstly, the peak of the epidemic had already been reached and the team could not identify any new cases; the main source of transmission was hypothesized and later proved to be the Yambuku hospital ran by the Flemish nuns, unwittingly the hospital staff had passed on the infection to a host of people through the re-use of syringes; whilst other cases seemed to be skin to skin transmission especially through preparation of the dead, the initial vector of the disease was not identified.

Map of the villages visited in the Yambuku region (1976)

On hearing the news, the international commission departed to the region to carry out more extensive epidemiological search and be certain that the disease was no longer a threat. Despite killing 88% of its victims the disease magnitude was deceased thanks to village elders imposing their own cordon sanitaire measures to prevent the spread of disease to surrounding areas and local people realising that the hospitals were the major source of the infection.

The experience with the Ebola virus had quite a transformative effect on Peter Piot’s life. Along with being grateful to being alive, he felt vindicated in his decision to pursue epidemic disease and eager to advance in his profession and shortly afterwards moved to America.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Open Access and Open Data drop-in advice session

When: Wednesday 23 October, 1pm-3pm

Where: Manson Foyer, Ground Floor, South Courtyard 

To celebrate International Open Access Week (21-27 October) Andrew Gray (LSHTM Research Online Manager) and Gareth Knight (Project Manager, Research Data Management) will be holding a drop-in advice session for all staff and students who want advice, or simply want to learn more about Open Access, Data Management and Data Sharing. Potential topics will include advice on funder policies (RCUK, Wellcome Trust, and others), where to publish research, how to publish Open Access without paying fees, Data Sharing, E-thesis and LSHTM Research Online.

There is no need to book just bring your questions and receive 1-to-1 help anytime between 1pm and 3pm on Wednesday 23 October.  

For more information please email

Friday, 4 October 2013

Disruption to PubMed and MEDLINE databases

Due to the US Government shutdown, the National Library of Medicine in the USA is working with minimal staffing. Therefore, PubMed and MEDLINE are not being updated at this time.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Class of 1913

For all the new students, we thought that it would be nice to meet the students from 100 years ago. In 1913, the School ran three sessions during the year; the 43rd session began in October 1913 and ran to December. 71 students attended, this was made up of 66 men and 5 women.

The photo shows the students along with members of staff including H B Newham, the Director and Superintendent (second row, sixth from the left). He attended the School in 1906 as a student; then became a demonstrator until he became Director in 1910. Also present is Philip Bahr (second row, fourth from left), who later married Sir Patrick Manson’s daughter and became a leader in the field of tropical medicine as Philip Manson-Bahr. Robert Mackay (standing at the far right), labelled as ‘Robert’, a laboratory assistant who served at the school from its foundation, when he was only 14, until his accidental death in 1928. His skill was already well respected within the School, especially since his discovery of the organism in the first case of human trypanosomiasis in England in 1902.

Carpenter diary
The students included HE Shortt (unfortunately absent from the photo), he came back to work at the School in 1938 as a reader in Medical Parasitology, and then as the Director of the Department of Parasitology after the Second World War. Also absent is G D Carpenter, he went to work in Uganda in the 1920s as the specialist officer in control of Sleeping Sickness and the archives has a diary written jointly between him and his wife which gives a fascinating account of life in Uganda during this period.

School in the Albert Docks
At this time the School was based in the Albert Docks in the East End, along with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, this was so that students had access to seamen suffering from tropical diseases who had arrived back from overseas on their boats which docked in the Thames. The school offered facilities for study and research, including laboratories and insectaries that provided students with the opportunities to develop and share their knowledge. There was also an emphasis that students would not only learn how to identify and treat tropical disease but would also gain the skills to investigate illnesses.
On leaving the School, the majority of students travelled overseas, during the 43rd session, the most popular destinations were India (22 students) and West Africa (16 students).

If you would like to find out more about the history of the School or our archive collections visit our webpage here or email us at