The cause of such a major, prolonged outbreak is not known. Some public health experts deny poverty is the cause. Instead they blame a combination of reduced population immunity, damp summer weather in which the organism thrives, and the change from hard lavatory paper to soft absorbent tissue which contaminates hands.
There has also been a significant increase in two other so-called diseases of poverty, tuberculosis and scabies, according to communicable diseases statistics compiled by the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys. TB cases have risen from 5,204 in 1990 to 5,861 in 1992, while scabies has increased from 165.3 cases per 100,000 population at risk to 213.2.
Revealing the figures at a London conference on health inequality, David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, claimed: 'The link between a recession-hit Britain and the rise in poverty diseases is plain for all to see.'
His views was disputed, however, by Dr Jim Dunlop, an environmental health official in the Hull area where there have been 1,287 cases of dysentery over the last two years. He said the cases were fairly evenly spread across the social classes, with only a 'slightly higher' increase in the lowest income groups.Reuse content