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The Victorian Disease Take Over

Thanks to modern science and improved public health, prominent diseases from the Victorian era were thought to have been consigned to the history books. Fast forward to the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, and several (infectious) diseases are on the rise in the UK, with some at their highest rates in decades (1).

Blotchy rash, fever, sore eyes – measles is back. In January and February 2024, 959 cases of measles were reported in the UK – a “drastic” increase from the 52 suspected cases in the previous year. Some health officials believe the COVID-19 pandemic is partly to blame; the number of children being vaccinated suffered a major decline during lockdown (2).

Cases of diphtheria were also rising across the country in recent years. This highly contagious disease – which is especially fatal in children – has been included in NHS routine vaccinations in children and babies since the 1940s, making cases extremely rare – until June 2022, when an increased number of asylum seekers were confirmed as carrying toxigenic C. diphtheriae (3).

Unfortunately, the Victorian disease take over doesn’t end there. We’re also seeing a rise in tuberculosis (TB) – a disease that took the lives of 1 in 7 people in the early 19th century. The TB jab used to be offered to children in secondary schools in the UK, but this was phased out in 2005 and moved to a targeted approach for those at higher risk. TB is curable with antibiotics, but a 10.7 percent rise in cases from 2022 to 2023 is still cause for concern (4).

If the infectious disease onslaught is not enough, we’re also struggling with malnutrition, with both rickets and scurvy increasingly rearing their ugly heads across the UK (over 28,000 cases of rickets and 269 cases of scurvy reported since 2019).

What’s to blame? Cost-of-living crisis, anti-vaxers, unchecked asylum seekers, lockdown repercussions, a failing NHS? These touted root causes read like the front page of a tabloid newspaper – but, whatever the cause (almost certainly a combination of factors), this problem likely demands a holistic solution.

What cases are on the rise where you are? What solutions are being put in place? Let me know.

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  1. GOV.UK (2019). Available at:
  2. Nature (2024). Available at: 
  3. GOV.UK (2024). Available at:
  4. GOV.UK (2024). Available at: 
About the Author
Jessica Allerton

Deputy Editor, The Pathologist

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