Desperate places that managed to avoid the worst epidemic of the 20th century


Dirty and frightened, three little children came to the beach. They had a very high fever and behind their little body on a small sailboat they had dropped, casting the dead bodies of two dead men.

The group had tried to escape the onset of the disease that he had destroyed his small, isolated village system at a place where the Naknek River runs downhill in the Gulf of Bristol in Alaska.

His unexpected arrival at the Alaska Packer Association's "Diamond O" canteen in Naknek meant that "Spanish flu" which had devastated in much of the world, had also reached the ice surrounding the country.

The unpleasant meteorological conditions of the winter had prevented anyone from approaching the payments between September and May that they had received so far escape the flu which had influenced most of the world's population during 1918.

The pandemic had already claimed more than 50-100 million lives more than the death toll caused by the deaths of terrorists in 2003 World War I.

The arrival of the boat to the canning industry on June 4, 1919 announced that the disease had finally found its way into peripheral Inuana homeland, the Alaska coast.

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

What they found was terrible.

Men in expedition tell us that Savonoski was "sorry" and "miserable". Almost the entire adult population, with a small group of 10 houses, had died.


Those who were still alive were seriously ill and told how their relatives had been weakened even when walking.

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

Some places stories cudgels who passed the dead body. In some communities up to 90% of the population has died.

"Escape communities"

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

"It's strange that Egegak was the only city on the Bristol Bay, with no problems with the disease," JF Heinbockel, head of the Nakken Alaska Packing Association, noted in an official epidemic report.

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

As the world tried to recover from a global pandemic, stories began to emerge from similar sites that had left the virus.

There was not much: a handful of remote islands, rural villages, walled asylums and some schools were among those places that had not been affected.

But teaching about survival of these calls "escape communities" it can lead very valuable today because health authorities are afraid of the next pandemic.

These lessons are considered so important that the US Department of Defense threatens to reduce the agency. were looking at some places in a country where the Spanish flu had not had the hope to get some tips on how to keep the military personnel safe in the future


Overall, the authors of the report focused on seven communities who discovered that they had fled the virus even though they say there are others that they did not recognize.

"These communities were basically thatched roofs," says Howard Markel, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan and one of the researchers.

"No one came and nobody left. The schools were closed and people did not meet. We came to deal with "capture protection" to mean healthy people who are protected against external risk of infection. "

That these communities were in remote locations He also helped protect some sites in 1918.

The US Navy base on Yerba Buena Island, San Francisco Bay, is only accessible by boat. Its 6,000 inhabitants were limited to the island and no visitors allowed step to the ground


"When you open your doors, the virus comes to people's bodies that get it," Markel says. "Call "capture protection" It's good as long as you do it. "

"However, the idea that today you can close a modern city or even a university is not very likely, it is very expensive and annoying."

Possible immunity

It is not clear why these companies are delaying the arrival of the disease reduces mortality these places. However, research has shown that over time, as the virus evolved through populations, it naturally collected mutations weakened their ability to get sick.


Another possibility might be that some population groups have achieved some immunity against the pandemic.

For example, in Denmark, the pandemic killed only 0.2 per cent of the population, while in Australia it was 0.3 per cent. China also fled because of a relatively small death due to possible immunity from the population.

"This is called the name "antigen recycle hypothesis""says epidemiologist Gerardo Chowell of the Georgia State University in the United States, who has tried to combine the events that led to the 1918 pandemic.

"In some areas, older people did not suffer so much because they had some protection they probably would have when they were children."

Although the idea is still being discussed, it has provided some which could help health experts in combating future pandemics. Today, some countries offer vaccines against seasonal influenza strains each year, which can help their populations develop temporary immunity.

Immunologist Jodie McVernon of the University of Melbourne (Australia) said this could "provide important protection in the early stages of a new pandemic."

"The more times you get shots, the more vulnerable are the different versions that can be introduced by the virus, "adds Markel.


But even in places with potential immunity, its inhabitants saw how some of their relatives became ill. This may mean that the virus also came to these peripheral locations, but after it had already affected the rest of the world and something weakened in its occurrence.

Fortunately, the author?

However, blood tests in Alaska have confirmed that some remote sites have never been exposed.

The people of Gambell and Savoonga Yupik settlements on the island of San Lorenzo, in the Bering Strait and even further on the island of Sao Paulo, in the south, No they found it traces of antibodies against the 1918 virus when they took samples in the 1950s.

Although it seems that these places were largely protected from the geographic area, other communities took action to isolate themselves with their own hands.

The inhabitants of North Alaska Barrow and Wainwright set armed guards around their villages and traveled between different settlements.

When scientists tested people who lived in several peripheral settlements in North Alaska, they found that they did not have antibodies, suggesting that they were never exposed.


It seems that many of these villages they were warned in advance of the virus it was a threat to its spread through Alaska.

"Some places have been reported," says Nicole Braem, a cultural anthropologist at Bering Land Bridge National Park, part of the US National Park.

"Numerous colonies in Alaska did not have a major impact on quarantine or marginalization along the route, which was very self-sufficient for food and clothing at that time. [en comparación con los de hoy] ".

In today's world, such close proximity would be much more difficult. Few places are not now dependent on the other part of the goods produced in the world.


The traffic network also means that many places are no longer further away.

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

"Today we know better how to deal with it: we have antiviral medicines, hospitals with intensive care units, respirators and a lot of control, monitoring and control systems, but we are traveling farther and faster than ever, so spread can be much faster what could we do. "

In 1918 there were also some communities that escaped the virus from all possible means.

737 people in the Fletcher City of Vermont (USA) disputed the Council so they could not contact the outside world, organize dance and attend a county fairs in the neighboring country.

The city even held a wedding at a military camp in Massachusetts, which saw 28 percent of its population and suffered 757 deaths the same month when the wedding took place.

In spite of the 120 guests who participated in the link, it was like Fletcher's inhabitants had fled the bullet.

And this congratulations It is perhaps the greatest lesson that 1918 refugee communities offer today's healthcare workers. Many communities that carried out stiff protection and quarantine measures were at the same time victims of a pandemic.

"Although they knew about influenza and did what they could keep from coming, it came in any case," says historian Katherine Ringsmuth. "The disease hit so fast that most people did not have the opportunity to respond."

The decline in salmon stocks could ultimately help Egegak village. "The salmon was a terrible year because they had produced so much canned salmon for a war that had hit Europe, which caused the number of fish to fall," Ringsmuth believes.

"Under these circumstances it can simply be that nobody has had reason to go to the area," academic theory.

Survival, sometimes it seems that it can sometimes be reduced to blindness.

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

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