Public Health – Glasgow’s smallpox outbreak


Glasgow’s smallpox outbreak started in April 1950. An Indian seaman, Mussa Ali, had left his ship, the SS Chitral, at Tilbury and travelled to Glasgow. There he fell ill and was admitted to hospital with what turned out to be smallpox, endemic in his country of origin.

The disease spread, and a doctor, Janet Fleming, who had had contact with Ali, died in Hamilton on 2 April. The outbreak went on to infect 19 and kill six. Thousands of people queued on the streets of Glasgow and Hamilton for vaccination. A specially opened clinic was innoculating 600 individuals an hour, and by mid April, around 300,00 had been vaccinated across Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire.

This rapid response to the crisis paid off and Glasgow was given the all-clear by 17 April. But the number of cases had had an adverse impact on Glasgow’s tourism, occurring as it did over the Easter break. Medical Officers of Health in Edinburgh and Corby (where there was a large Scottish diaspora) advised against travel to the area and across the Atlantic, in New York City, travellers from Scotland had to present evidence of vaccination before landing. An advertising campaign was called for to let the world that “Scotland is normal again”

[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545998/ “Vaccinating Britain: Mass vaccination and the public since the Second World War” [Internet]]

[Image: courtesy Eye of Science/Science Photo Library]

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