THE Victorian children’s disease of rickets has made a shock return to Birmingham after decades of lying dormant, public health bosses have revealed.
Doctors have seen a rise in children affected by the ‘bow-legged’ disease, prominent in the Victorian slums and caused by a Vitamin D deficiency.
Heart of Birmingham Primary Care Trust (PCT), which looks after residents in Birmingham’s inner-city areas, has launched a programme, giving extra supplements to pregnant women to try and stem the problem.
Figures show there were 65 cases of rickets in children under five in Birmingham between 2001 and 2003.
Dr Jacky Chambers, director of public health for the PCT, said gloomy weather may partly be to blame for the re-emergence of rickets as sunlight is one of the main supplies of Vitamin D.
Dr Chambers said: “We think of rickets as a very old disease, but it has re-emerged in industrialised countries such as America and New Zealand as we don’t get much sunlight throughout the year, and there is a tendency for us to cover up when we’re outdoors.
“We should aim to get 90 per cent of our vitamin D requirement from sunlight, but in the Midlands and everywhere further north, we get too few hours of sunlight to meet our bodies’ needs.
“This is why Heart of Birmingham PCT has a policy of giving free Healthy Start vitamins to all pregnant women, mothers of children under one, and children up to the age of five. These vitamins for women and drops for children make up for the lack of sunlight.”
Researchers at Birmingham Children’s Hospital warned rickets was returning in 2002 after 24 victims, most from black and Asian families, were diagnosed in the year to May 2001, a staggering 8.9 cases per 100,000 children.
Rickets, which leads to softening of the bones, fits and slows walking and development, is not the first Victorian illness to rear its head in recent years.
Measles and mumps swept through communities, killing thousands in the Victorian era, and Midlands cases have surged over a decade, partly due to false claims the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to autism.
Consumption, also called tuberculosis and TB, was rife at the turn of the 20th century and although close to being wiped out in the UK by the 1970s due to BCG immunisation, it has also returned.
TB rates have been rising in the city and blame has been laid at the door of the schools vaccination being scrapped with only “high risk” children immunised, plus immigrants bringing tuberculosis into the UK from the developing world.
Sexual diseases syphilis and gonorrhoea were rampant in Victoria’s reign due to relaxed attitudes to prostitution and little protection.
Eventually a law was put in place where any woman found near a garrison town or port could be arrested and examined for syphilis.
Partly due to rising levels of casual unprotected sex and brothels set up by human trafficking gangs, cases of the syphilis have surged 20-fold in Birmingham between 2000 and 2006 with more than 100 cases a year and gonorrhoea rates have increased in the region.