Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

place to place. It clings to particular localities, buildings and ships, in which it has a great tendency to occur; for instance, it is apt to break out again and again on certain vessels trading to the East. It haunts low-lying districts along the coast, and the banks of rivers. Moisture and high temperature are required to develop its activity, which is further favoured by bad ventilation, overcrowding and underfeeding. Another strongly supported hypothesis is that it is caused by unwholesome diet. The experience of the Japanese navy points strongly in this direction. Beri-beri was constantly prevalent among the sailors until 1884, when the dietary was changed. A striking and progressive diminution at once set in, and continued until the disease wholly disappeared. Major Ronald Ross suggested that beri-beri was really arsenical poisoning. A natural surmise is that it is due to some fungoid growth affecting grain, such as rice, maize or some other food stuff commonly used in the localities where beri-beri is prevalent, and among sailors. The conditions under which their food is kept on board certain ships might explain the tendency of the disease to haunt particular vessels. Dr Charles Hose is the principal advocate of this theory. Having had much experience of beri-beri in Sarawak, he associates it with the eating of mouldy rice, a germ in the fungus constituting the poison. But Dr Hose’s views as to rice have been strongly opposed by Dr Hamilton Wright and others.

The most susceptible age is from 15 to 40. Children under 15 and persons over 50 or 60 are rarely attacked. Men are more liable than women. Race has no influence. Previous attacks powerfully predispose.

The symptoms are mainly those of peripheral neuritis with special implication of the phrenic and the pneumogastric nerves. There is usually a premonitory stage, in which the patient is languid, easily tired, depressed, and complains of numbness, stiffness and cramps in the legs; the ankles are oedematous and the face is puffy. After this, pronounced symptoms set in rapidly, the patient suddenly loses power in the legs and is hardly able to walk or stand; this paresis is accompanied by partial anaesthesia, and by burning or tingling sensations in the feet, legs and arms; the finger-tips are numb, the calf muscles tender. These symptoms increase, the oedema becomes general, the paralysis more marked; breathlessness and palpitation come on in paroxysms; the urine is greatly diminished. There is no fever, unless it is of an incidental character, and no brain symptoms arise. The patient may remain in this condition for several days or weeks, when the symptoms begin to subside. On the disappearance of the oedema the muscles of the leg are found to be atrophied. Recovery is very slow, but appears to be certain when once begun. When death occurs it is usually from syncope through over-distension of the heart. The mortality varies greatly, from 2 to 50% of the cases. The disease is said to be extremely fatal among the Malays. After death there is found to be serious infiltration into all the tissues, and often haemorrhages into the muscles and nerves, but the most important lesion is degeneration of the peripheral nerves. The cerebrospinal centres are not affected, and the degeneration of the nerve-fibres is more marked the farther they are from the point of origin. The implication of the phrenic and pneumogastric nerves, and of the cardiac plexus, accounts for the breathlessness, palpitation and heart failure; that of the vaso-motor system for the oedema and diminution of urine, and that of the spinal nerves for the loss of power, the impairment and perversion of sensation. According as these nerves are variously affected the symptoms will be modified, some being more prominent in one case and some in another.

Authorities.—See Sir Patrick Manson, Tropical Diseases (new ed., 1907), for a critical discussion of the subject, see The Times of 28th October 1905; a full bibliography is given by Manson in Allbutt and Rolleston’s System of Medicine (1907).

BERING (Behring), VITUS (1680-1741), Danish navigator, was born in 1680 at Horsens. In 1703 he entered the Russian navy, and served in the Swedish war. A series of explorations of the north coast of Asia, the outcome of a far-reaching plan devised by Peter the Great, led up to Bering’s first voyage to Kamchatka. In 1725, under the auspices of the Russian government, he went overland to Okhotsk, crossed to Kamchatka, and built the ship “Gabriel.” In her he pushed northward in 1728, until he could no longer observe any extension of the land to the north, or its appearance to the east. In the following year he made an abortive search for land eastward, and in 1730 returned to St Petersburg. He was subsequently commissioned to a further expedition, and in 1740 established the settlement of Petropavlosk in Kamchatka; and built two vessels, the “St Peter” and “St Paul,” in which in 1741 he led an expedition towards America. A storm separated the ships, but Bering sighted the southern coast of Alaska, and a landing was made at Kayak Island or in the vicinity. Bering was forced by adverse conditions to return quickly, and discovered some of the Aleutian Islands on his way back. He was afflicted with scurvy, and became too ill to command his ships, which were at last driven to refuge on an uninhabited island in the south-west of Bering Sea, where Bering himself and many of his company died. This island bears his name. Bering died on the 19th of December 1741. It was long before the value of his work was recognized; but Captain Cook was able to prove his accuracy as an observer.

See G. F. Müller, Sammlung russischer Geschichten, vol. iii. (St Petersburg, 1758); P. Lauridsen, Bering og de Russiske Opdagelsesrejser (Copenhagen, 1885).

BERING ISLAND, SEA and STRAIT. These take their name from the explorer Vitus Bering. The island (also called Avatcha), which was the scene of his death, lies in the south-western part of the sea, off the coast of Kamchatka, being one of the Commander or Komandor group, belonging to Russia. It is 69 m. long and 28 m. in extreme breadth; the area is 615 sq. m. The extreme elevation is about 300 ft. The smaller Copper Island lies near. The islands are treeless, and the climate is severe, but there is a population of about 650. Bering Sea is the northward continuation of the Pacific Ocean, from which it is demarcated by the long chain of the Aleutian Islands. It is bounded on the east by Alaska, and on the west by the Siberian and Kamchatkan coast. Its area is estimated at 870,000 sq. m. In the north and east it has numerous islands (St Lawrence, St Matthew, Nunivak and the Pribiloff group) and is shallow; in the south-west it reaches depths over 2000 fathoms. The seal-fisheries are important (see Bering Sea Arbitration). The sea is connected with the Arctic Ocean northward by Bering Strait, at the narrowest part of which East Cape (Deshnev) in Asia approaches within about 56 m. of Cape Prince of Wales on the American shore. North and south of these points the coasts on both sides rapidly diverge. They are steep and rocky, and considerably indented. The extreme depth of the strait approaches 50 fathoms, and it contains two small islands known as the Diomede Islands. These granite domes, lacking a harbour, lie about a mile apart, and the boundary line between the possessions of Russia and the United States passes between them. They are occupied by a small tribe of about 80 Eskimo, who have