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The First World War years of Sydney Domville Rowland: an early case of possible laboratory-acquired meningococcal disease
  1. Peter C Wever1,2 and
  2. A J Hodges3
  1. 1Department of Medical Microbiology and Infection Control, Jeroen Bosch Hospital, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
  2. 2Military Medicine Historical Research Society, The Netherlands
  3. 3Stoke History Group, Stoke sub Hamdon, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Peter C Wever, Department of Medical Microbiology and Infection Control, Jeroen Bosch Hospital, P. O. Box 90153, ‘s-Hertogenbosch 5200 ME, The Netherlands; p.wever{at}


Sydney Domville Rowland was a bacteriologist and staff member at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine when the First World War broke out in 1914. Following a request to the Director of the Lister Institute to staff and equip a mobile field laboratory as quickly as possible, Rowland was appointed to take charge of No. 1 Mobile Laboratory and took up a temporary commission at the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps. On 9 October 1914, Rowland set out for the European mainland and was subsequently attached to General Headquarters in Saint-Omer, France (October 1914-June 1915), No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station in Lijssenthoek, Belgium (June 1915-February 1916, during which period he was promoted Major), and No. 26 General Hospital in Étaples, France (February 1916-March 1917). His research focused on gas gangrene, typhoid fever, trench fever, wound infection and cerebrospinal fever. In February of 1917, while engaged in identifying meningococcal carriers, Rowland contracted cerebrospinal meningitis to which he succumbed at age 44 on 6 March 1917. His untimely death might have been caused by laboratory-acquired meningococcal disease, especially since Rowland's work with Neisseria meningitidis isolates had extended beyond routine laboratory techniques and included risk procedures like immunisation of rabbits with pathogenic strains isolated from cerebrospinal fluid. Currently, microbiology laboratory workers who are routinely exposed to N. meningitidis isolates are recognised as a population at increased risk for meningococcal disease, for which reason recommended preventive measures include vaccination and handling of isolates within a class II biosafety cabinet.

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