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There is no rabies in the UK today but there was in the past. In 1885 in London, a rabies epidemic reached epidemic proportions. That year, 80 cases were seen at Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic. The epidemic was brought under control through measures recommended by veterinary surgeon, Alfred Sewell. 

In early December 1885, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, visited ‘The Veterinary Infirmary’ on Elizabeth Street and interviewed Sewell about the epidemic.

‘I next visited Mr. Alfred Sewell, veterinary surgeon….at his house ... near Eaton Square. His rooms were crowded and there were a number of carriages before his door, while a man on the sidewalk distributed bills, advertising a patent muzzle. When the patients had retired the doctor pleasantly received the correspondent.

“Yes”, he said, “I am busied with consultations this year. I have had seventy-three undoubted cases of rabies under my care, evenly distributed among a variety of breeds (looking at a memorandum-book) – three poodles, four field spaniels, one mastiff, seven collies, thirteen fox terriers, two Maltese, one otterhound and one St. Bernard… I suggested muzzling a fortnight ago to Sir Edmund Henderson, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, pointing out to him the Berlin figures which from 1848 to 1853, showed 272 cases of rabies, and after that date, when muzzling was introduced there were only thirteen cases during the following five years.”’

Alfred Sewell told the reporter he recently visited Paris where he had a ‘long interview’ with Louis Pasteur who that year produced the first effective rabies vaccine. Pasteur was a strong advocate of muzzling. Sewell now advocating the same, became an advisor to the Home Secretary and a Muzzling Order was passed by Parliament.

Sewell supports withdrawing the Muzzling Order

Within a decade, rabies has been virtually eliminated. Having advocated a muzzling order, in the absence of rabies, he now described it as unnecessary and lobbied for withdrawal of the order. In 1897 Sewell wrote that although 50,000 dogs have passed through the Dogs’ Home at Battersea in the last year (where he was a pro bono vet) there had not been a single case of rabies. In a letter to the Editor of The Times in March of that year, he wrote:

‘Dear Sir, In reply to your letter, some of the wire muzzles are very cruel, but a properly fitted one is not so bad… Respecting the Muzzling Order, I think it is quite unnecessary now, especially in London… I wrote to every veterinary surgeon in London in February, asking for the date of the last case of rabies seen, and I had forty-two replies. The last case quoted was November 17th, 1896, and many veterinary surgeons did not see a case last year, and others had not seen one for six months.’ 

The Muzzling Order was withdrawn two years later.

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