1964 Aberdeen typhoid outbreak

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In 1964 there was an outbreak of typhoid in the city of Aberdeen, Scotland. The first two cases were identified on 20 May 1964; eventually over 400 cases were diagnosed and the patients were quarantined at the City Hospital in Urquhart Road and Woodend Hospital in Eday Road, but no fatalities resulted. Dr Ian MacQueen, the Medical Officer of Health for Aberdeen, became well known in the media for his twice-daily briefings.[1][2]

The outbreak was eventually traced to contaminated tinned corned beef from South America made by Fray Bentos and sold in the city's branch of the Scottish grocery chain William Low. Pollution from the waters of the Uruguay River (which flows into the Río de la Plata) appeared to be the source of the contamination, probably through water entering a defective tin through a small puncture. The infected meat then contaminated a meat slicing machine within the William Low shop, leading to the spread of the disease.


The reputation of Aberdeen as a safe city to visit, live in and work in was briefly harmed by the media coverage of the outbreak. In July 1964, following the end of the outbreak, the Queen made a high-profile visit to boost morale and to help rehabilitate the city's reputation.

An official enquiry and report into the outbreak was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The enquiry was headed by Sir David Milne and his published findings became known as the Milne Report.

The reputation of William Low was irrevocably damaged within Aberdeen and the city's store, the source of the outbreak, closed three years later. Dundee-based William Low subsequently opened many other stores around Scotland but remained absent from Aberdeen. William Low was taken over by Tesco in 1994. Public perceptions of the safety of Fray Bentos tinned meats also contributed to significantly diminished income.

The outbreak was successfully handled, given the absence of fatalities. The outbreak drew attention to the need for better standards of hygiene, notably in the cleaning of food processing machinery. The University of Aberdeen went to on to develop an international reputation in the field of disease control, notably in the appointment of Professor Hugh Pennington to the post of Professor of Bacteriology from 1979 until his retirement in 2003.

The typhoid outbreak may have encouraged replacement of traditional laundered roller towels in public toilets, which allowed bacterial cross-infection from person to person, by disposable paper towels and warm air hand driers.

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  1. ^ Nicolson, Stuart (26 June 2008). "Typhoid left city 'under siege'". BBC Scotland News. Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Smith, D. F. (1 July 2007). "Food panics in history: corned beef, typhoid and "risk society"". Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 61 (7): 566–570. PMC 2465752Freely accessible. PMID 17568045. doi:10.1136/jech.2006.046417. 

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