Saturday , November 28 2020

Unusual places that managed to avoid the worst 20th-century epidemic



Dirty and frightened, three young children came to the beach. They had a very high fever, and behind their little bodies, the bodies of two dead men lay on board the small sailboat they had come down from.

The group was trying to escape outbreak of disease that he has devastated his little isolated village up to the place where the Nakne River flows into Bristol Bay, Alaska.

His unexpected arrival at the Alaska Paker Association's Diamond O's at Naknek meant that "Spanish influenza" who had caused damage to much of the world, had reached this remote corner of the ice-covered land.

Unusual weather conditions in winter prevented that between September and May someone approached those payments that they had so far received escape from the flu which affected the population of much of the world in 1918.

The pandemic has already claimed between 50 and 100 million lives, more than the total number of deaths due to the horrors of World War I,

The arrival of the boat to the canning industry on June 4, 1919 shows that the disease has finally found its way to the remote Inojan parents, the people on the shores of Alaska.

The next day, the cannery chief sent a team to the children's village to see if he could help.

What they found was terrible,

Reports from the expedition men describe that the town of Savonski is in a "disgraceful state" and "unhappy". Almost the entire adult population of a small group of 10 houses is dead.

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Those who were still alive were seriously ill and told that their relatives had fallen even when walking.

It was an image that was repeated in the villages of Alaska.

From some places, Stories' stories herds of stray dogs that feed on the bodies of the deadIn some communities, up to 90% of its population has died.

"Avoid Communities"

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

"It is strange that Egegac is the only town in Bristol Bay that has no problems with the disease," said the head of the Ackland Packaging Association, Nakn. Alaska J, in the official report of the epidemic.

Other medical reports show that some Egegac residents have shown only mild symptoms of the disease. They seem to have been lucky.

As the world tries to recover from the global pandemic, stories from similar sites that have escaped from the virus start to appear.

There was not much: a small part of remote islands, rural villages, sheltered shelters, and some schools were among those places that were not affected.

But he learns about the survival of these calls "avoid communities" this can lead to this very valuable today because the health authorities fear the next pandemic of this disease.

The lessons they contain are considered as important as the US Department of Defense's threat reduction agency. investigates some of the places in the country that have not been affected by the Spanish flu in the hope of doing some clues 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 realized they had escaped the virus, although they said there might be others they did not identify.

"These communities have been largely subordinate," explains Howard Markel, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan and one of the study's authors.

"No one came and no one leftSchools were closed and people did not meet. We came up with the term "kidnapping" to refer to a group of healthy people who are protected from the risk of infection by outsiders. "

The fact that these communities were in remote locations He also helped protect some sites in 1918.

The American naval base on the island of Yerba Buena, in San Francisco Bay, is only accessible by boat. Its 6000 inhabitants were confined to the island no visitors step on land

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"The moment you open the doors, the virus enters the bodies of people who have access to it," Markel said. – The call "hijacking" It's good, if you do.

"But the idea that today can close a modern city or even a university is unlikely is extremely expensive and annoying."

Possible immunity

It is unclear why these attempts to delay the arrival of the disease reduced mortality in these places. But studies have shown that over time, as the virus progresses through populations, it accumulates mutations that naturally reduced their ability to get sick,

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Alternatively, some populations may have gained some degree immunity against the pandemic strain.

In Denmark, for example, the pandemic killed only 0.2% of the population, and in Australia 0.3%. China has also escaped, with relatively few deaths, something that is due to the possible immunity in the population.

"This is known as "hypothesis of recycling of antigens""says Professor Gerardo Chowell, an epidemiologist at the State University of Georgia, USA, who tried to reconstruct the events that led to the 1918 pandemic.

"In some areas the elderly were not so affected because they had some protection they probably got when they were children."

Although the idea is still under discussion, she suggested some clues that could help health experts in the fight against future pandemicsToday, some countries offer annual vaccines against seasonal influenza strains that can help their populations develop temporary immunity.

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

"Most of the times you get photos, the more you are exposed to the different versions the virus can take, "adds Markel.

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But even in places of potential immunity, its residents saw how some of them had become ill. This could mean that the virus has reached these remote places but has already affected other parts of the world and something less than its frequency.

The luck factor?

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

The people in the Jupiter settlements of Gamble and Savogunga, the island of San Lorenzo, the Bering Strait and the more remote island of Sao Paulo in the south, no they found you traces of antibodies against the virus of 1918, when they took samples in the 1950s.

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

The columns of Barrow and Wainwright from North Alaska put armed guards around their villages and travel between the different settlements.

When scientists studied people living in a series of remote villages in northern Alaska, they found that they were also free of antibodies, suggesting they were never exposed.

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It seems that many of these villages they are warned in advance of the virus which was revealing when it spread through Alaska.

"Some places have been spotted," said Nicole Breem, a cultural anthropologist at the British Grand Bridge National Reserve, part of the US National Service.

"Numerous Alaska settlements were not affected, mainly because of the quarantines found on the travel routes or because of their remoteness, then the communities were self sufficient for food and clothing Foods and goods imported from elsewhere in the United States [en comparación con los de hoy] ".

In the modern world, nearby settlements like this would be much harder, Few places now do not depend on goods brought from another part of the world.

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Transport networks also mean that many places are no longer really remote.

"In 1918, they had very little idea of ​​the virus or cause of the pandemic," says Howard Markel.

"Today we will know better how to deal with it: we have antivirals, intensive care hospitals, respirators, and much more control, monitoring and surveillance systems, but we travel further and faster than ever before, distribution can be much faster of what we can do. "

There were also some communities in 1918 who fled the virus against all odds.

737 people living in Fletcher, Vermont (USA) challenged the council to avoid contact with the outside world, to organize a dance and attend a county in a neighboring city.

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

Despite the 120 guests attending the link, as if Fletcher's inhabitants had fled a bullet.

And this good luck Perhaps the greatest lesson is that 1918 escaping communities must offer today's health workers. Many communities that have introduced strict protection measures and quarantine were likewise the victims of the pandemic.

"Although they knew about the flu and did what they could to keep it from coming, it happened otherwise," says Catherine Ringsmuth, a historian. "The disease hit so quickly that most people did not have a chance to react."

Reducing salmon stocks could ultimately help the village of Egegak. "It was a terrible year for salmon, because they produced so many salmon cans for the war that happened in Europe, which has led to a decrease in the number of fish," says Ringsworth.

"Given these circumstances, it may just be that nobody has any reason to visit the area," the academic theory.

It seems that sometimes survival can 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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