Saturday , October 16 2021

Unexpected places that managed to escape the worst epidemic of the 20th century



Dirty and scared, three small children came to the beach. Their fever was very high and behind their tiny bodies, on a small sailboat from where they descended, laid the bodies of two dead.

The group tried to escape the spread of an illness that he had destroyed his small, remote and remote village in a place where the Naknek River ran aground in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

His unexpected arrival at the "Diamond O" canning plant of the Alaska Packer Association in Naknek means that "Spanish Flu" which has wreaked havoc in much of the world, has also reached a remote corner of this ice-covered land.

Unfriendly weather conditions from winter have prevented that between September and May someone approached the payment, that until then they had obtained running away from the flu which had affected most of the world's population during 1918.

The pandemic has claimed between 50 and 100 million, more than the total number of deaths due to terror First World War.

The arrival of the ship to the canning plant on June 4, 1919 showed that the disease finally found its way to the indigenous Inuit community, people on the coast of Alaska.

The next day, the canning inspector sent a team to the children's village to see if they could help.

What they found was terrible.

Reports of expeditions illustrate that the city of Savonoski was in "sad conditions" and "miserable". Almost the entire adult population of a small group of 10 houses has died.

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The survivors were seriously ill and told how their family had fainted even while walking.

That is a picture repeated in villages in Alaska.

From several stories a herd of wild dogs that eat the dead bodies of people. In some communities, up to 90% of the population has died.

"Escape the community"

However, a few miles from some of the areas most affected by the Bay of Bristol, a community in a small settlement called Egegak he escaped completely from the disease.

"It's strange that Egegak is the only city in Bristol Bay that doesn't have a problem with the disease," Supervisory Inspector Naknek Alaska Packing Association JF Heinbockel said in the epidemic's official report.

Other medical reports show that some Egegak residents showed only mild symptoms disease. Looks like they are lucky.

When the world tries to recover from a global pandemic, stories begin to emerge from similar places that have escaped the virus.

Not many in number: a handful of remote islands, villages, walled mental hospitals and several schools are among the locations that have not been affected.

But it teaches about the continuity of these calls "escape the community" that might happen very valuable today because health authorities fear the next pandemic of this disease.

The lessons they contain are considered very important so the US Department of Defense Threat Reduction Agency. investigating several places in the country that have not been affected by the Spanish flu in hopes of getting some instructions on how to keep military personnel safe in the future

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Overall, the authors of the report focused on seven communities who found that they had fled the virus, although they said there might be other people they did not identify.

"These communities are basically closed," explained Howard Markel, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan and one of the study's authors.

"Nothing came and nothing was left. Schools are closed and people don't meet. We come up with terms & # 39; piracy protection & # 39; to refer to a group of healthy people who are protected from the risk of infection from outsiders. "

The fact that these communities are in it remote place He also helped protect several sites in 1918.

The US naval base on the island of Yerba Buena, in San Francisco Bay, is only accessible by boat. 6,000 residents are limited to the island and no visitors allowed step on the ground

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"When you open the door, the virus enters the body of the people who access it," Markel said. "That call & # 39; piracy protection & # 39; This is good as long as you do it. "

"However, the idea that today you can close a modern city or even a university is very unlikely, it's very expensive and annoying."

Possible immunity

It is not clear why this effort is to delay the arrival of disease reduce mortality in these places. But research has suggested that over time, because viruses develop through populations, they accumulate mutations that are natural reduce their ability to fall ill.

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Another possibility is that some populations have obtained levels immunity fight the pandemic strain.

In Denmark, for example, the pandemic kills "only" 0.2% of the population, while in Australia it is 0.3%. China also escaped, with relatively few deaths, something caused by possible immunity in the population.

"This is known as & # 39; Antigen recycling hypothesis & # 39;"said Professor Gerardo Chowell, an epidemiologist at Georgia State University, in the United States, who had tried to fix the events that led to the 1918 pandemic.

"In some regions, older populations are not so affected because they have protection they might get when they are children."

Although the idea is still debated, it offers several clues that can help health experts in the war against future pandemics. At present some countries offer annual vaccines against strains of seasonal flu that can help their populations develop temporary immunity.

According to research by Jodie McVernon, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne (Australia), this could "provide important protection in the early stages of a new pandemic."

"The more often you take pictures, the more open you are to various versions that can be adopted by viruses, "Markel added.

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But even in places with potential immunity, the population saw how some of them fell ill. This could mean that the virus also reaches these remote sites, but after that it has affected other parts of the world and something that is weaker in its occurrence.

Luck factor?

Blood tests carried out in Alaska, however, have confirmed that some remote populations have never been exposed.

People in the yupik settlements of Gambell and Savoonga, on the island of San Lorenzo, on the Bering Strait and on the more remote island of Sao Paulo, further south, not they found antibody trace against the 1918 virus when they took samples in the 1950s.

Although it seems that these places are only protected by their geography, other communities are taking steps to isolate themselves with their own hands.

Settlers at Barrow and Wainwright in northern Alaska put armed guards around their villages and traveled between different settlements banned.

When scientists tested people living in a series of remote settlements in northern Alaska, they found that they were also free of antibodies, indicating that they had never been exposed.

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It seems that many of these villages they were warned before the virus which towered when it spread through Alaska.

"Some places were warned," said Nicole Braem, a cultural anthropologist at the Bering National Bridge Nature Reserve, part of US National Park Services.

"Many settlements in Alaska are not affected, mainly because quarantine is established along the route or because of their remoteness. The community at that time was very independent for food and clothing. Food and goods imported from other places in the United States [en comparación con los de hoy] "

In the modern world, close settlements like this will be much more difficult. Some places now do not depend on goods carried from other parts of the world.

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The transportation network also means that many places are no longer completely isolated.

"In 1918 they had little idea about a virus or the cause of a pandemic," Howard Markel said.

"Today we will know better how to deal with it: we have antivirals, hospitals with intensive care units, respirators and many more controls, monitoring and surveillance systems, but we travel farther and faster than before, so the spread can be much faster from what we can do. "

There were also several communities in 1918 that escaped the virus against all odds.

737 people living in the city of Fletcher, in Vermont (United States), challenged the council to avoid contact with the outside world, organize dances and attend regional weekends in neighboring cities.

The city even organized a wedding for a soldier from a military camp in Massachusetts who saw 28% of the population affected by the disease and suffered 757 deaths in the same month the wedding took place.

Even though there were 120 guests attending the link, it was as if residents of Fletcher dodged bullets.

And this good luck Maybe this is the biggest lesson that the 1918 runaway community has to offer health workers today. Many communities apply strict protection and quarantine actions are both victims of the pandemic.

"Even though they know about flu and do what they can to prevent it from coming, it still comes," said Katherine Ringsmuth, a historian. "The disease attacks so quickly that most people don't have the opportunity to respond."

The fall of salmon stocks could eventually help Egegak village. "This is a terrible year for salmon, because they have produced so much canned salmon for the war that took place in Europe that caused the number of fish to decline," Ringsmuth believes.

"Given this situation, maybe no one has a reason to visit the area," said the academic.

Survival, it seems, can sometimes be reduced to blind luck.


This article was originally published in English for BBC Future and you can read it here.


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