1937 St. Gallen outbreak
1937 St. Gallen outbreak: In September, 1937, there was a small outbreak in the women's section of the cantonal hospital for St Gallen at Frohburg, St Gallen, Switzerland. This outbreak was less than three months after the 1937 Erstfeld outbreak, about 200 km or 125 miles away.
According to a historical review of early outbreaks by Dr. Gordon Parish: "Of the twenty-eight patients and staff at risk, seven nurses, five patients, an auxiliary and a male doctor were affected and there were three outside contacts. The age range was from 21 to 38 and six patients were over 30 years old. Meningeal involvement [involvement of the lining of the brain and spinal cord] in eight patients with minimal changes in the CSF [cerebrospinal fluid] and pneumonic [affecting the lungs] changes in five patients were prominent features of the epidemic. Muscle paresis [muscular weakness caused by nerve damage or disease or partial paralysis] occurred in three patients. The typical prolonged convalescent period was observed with relapses, marked fatigability and autonomic disturbances."
The frequency of symptoms in the St Gallen outbreak were as follows: 35% had systemic symptoms, 47% had meningeal involvement (involvement of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), and 18% develop encephalomyelitis with paresis (muscular weakness caused by nerve damage or disease or partial paralysis).
Several differences appeared in this epidemic, compared to the the one at Erstfeld: 1) it spread to the community, 2) there was twice the number with central nervous symptom involvement, and 3) patients had longer recovery and more relapses.
One particularly unusual difference between this hospital outbreak and others that occurred at a later date in hospitals, is that the illness affected patients as well as staff. A possible reason, Parish theorizes, is that the hospital patients were maternity patients who were laboring when exposed to the infection and "the deleterious effect of physical exercise during exposure and convalescence" may have increased their risk of infection.
Dr. Otto Gsell, a renowned Swiss internist and professor, who has the artery disease, Erdheim-Gsell syndrome, named for him, published several articles about the several Swiss outbreaks. He used the diagnosis of "Abortive Poliomyelitis*," but also documented the differences in disease manifestation. Twenty years later, in 1958, after studying many outbreaks, including the Akureyri outbreak he wrote that "Encephalomyelitis myalgia epidemica eine poliomyelitisahnliche Krankheit" (myalgic encephalomyelitis epidemic is a poliomyelitis-like disease).
(*Abortive Poliomyelitis accounts for 80-90% of polio cases, is a mild form of poliomyelitis that does not involve the central nervous system, does not cause permanent disabilities of any kind, and recovery is within a couple days. Symptoms are similar to the flu: fever, malaise, headache, sore throat and vomiting.)
- Parish, J.G. (November 1978), "Early outbreaks of 'epidemic neuromyasthenia'.", Postgraduate Medical Journal, 54 (637): 711-717, PMID 370810
- Encephalomyelitis myalgia epidemica eine poliomyelitisahnliche Krankheit. Schweiz Med Wochenschr 1958; 88: 488–91.