Sir Ronald Ross’ work on dysentery in Alexandria, Egypt during the Great War

The Ross Collection in the Archives of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine holds material on dysentery during the First World War.
Sir Ronald Ross is famous for being the discoverer of the mosquito transmission of malaria and the first Briton to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.


Ross and colleagues in Alexandria, 1915

During World War One he was appointed a consultant physician on tropical diseases to Indian troops and was sent to Alexandria for four months to investigate an outbreak of dysentery which was hampering troops in the Dardanelles. In the report he made at the end of his service, he states that on visiting seven large hospitals in Alexandria, nearly all medical cases belonged to five groups of diseases usually prevalent in British troops in warm countries: typhoid, jaundice, malaria, dysentery and mixed cases. Of these, dysentery (an infection of the intestines that causes diarrhoea containing blood and mucus) was the principal cause of sickness in the Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces. Figures from a report show that from 29 August to 9th October 1915 there were 32,528 cases of diarrhoea and dysentery with 231 deaths.


Post mortems on cases showing dysenteric ulceration of colon at 21 General Hospital, Alexandria June 28-October 27 1915 by George Bertram Bartlett

He found that many of the cases were amoebic dysentery which meant prolonged illness and cases of liver abscesses. Ross instructed that all patients showing dysenteric symptoms at the front be given emetine and this resulted in patients reaching Alexandria in a less critical condition.
Ross finished his report with a number of suggestions, including increasing the number of pathologists in each hospital, and that those patients who have been treated successfully for malaria and dysentery be sent home with medical cards outlining their medical notes in case of relapse.

Ross at the Regina Hotel, Alexandria, Egypt

While Ross is remembered for his work on malaria and dysentry, this remarkable man was also a mathematician, epidemiologist, sanitarian, editor, novelist, dramatist, poet, amateur musician, composer, and artist. He died, after a long illness, at the Ross Institute on 16 September 1932.

“…With tears and toiling breath,
I find thy cunning seeds,
O million-murdering Death.”

(fragment of poem by Ronald Ross, written in August 1897, following his discovery of malaria parasites in anopheline mosquitoes fed on malaria-infected patients)

Information Sources:

Library & Archives Service, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

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