The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco


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Each of those ships had to pass a health inspection before they docked, of course, but both the passengers and the local businesses pressured the health inspectors to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. They did this even after cases of plague, and mini-epidemics, broke out in China, and then in Hawaii. When the earthquake hit, and the rats took over the rubble of the city, the deaths came so fast and thick that there was no denying it anymore. Still, it took years of work before the plague was quelled.

By that time, it had started showing up in local squirrels. Bubonic plague is not a virus, but a bacterial infection. Yersinia pestis lives in fleas, which leave traces of it in the area that they bite.

It works its way into the body and multiplies, traveling through the lymphatic system. The swellings that appear at the groin and under the armpits are the painfully swollen lymph nodes. Bubonic plague kills within four days, at which point the fleas desert the body and go to the next victim, taking their bacteria with them.

There are certain environmental factors that affect the spread of the disease.

S.F. leaders denied, concealed major plague epidemics

More large predators means less teaming colonies of small rodents. Both hosts and fleas hibernate during cold winter months. Anyplace where small burrowing animals thrive in hot weather is ideal. Generally there are between one and seventeen cases per year in the United States, and only about a thousand in total since Anyone of any age can get contract the infection, but probability of exposure increases with outdoor activity.

Lie down with small mammals, get up with plague.

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People who want to minimize their possibility can go snow-camping, or camping during the coldest part of the winter - although getting the plague may seem the more pleasurable option. Cases of plague are very rare, and antibiotics are effective, but the disease is no joke. In , two major cases of bubonic plague hit the news.

The mouse was most likely infected. Morrow ruled [ when? The ruling required that the same restrictions, if any, be applied to everyone no matter their ethnic group. The defendants did not have enough evidence to prove that the Chinese were transmitting the plague. Morrow agreed with the argument that if they were, the city would not have permitted them to roam the streets of San Francisco.

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White Americans that were walking the streets of Chinatown were allowed to leave; everybody else was forced to stay. The Health Board had to approve whether or not any health official crossed into the quarantined area. Kinyoun's lab confirmed the disease was bubonic plague and informed the Health Board right away. In an attempt to avoid a second controversial quarantine, the Health Board continued with a house-to-house inspection to look for possible plague infested households — disinfecting those that were thought to be at risk of infection.

On the contrary, other residents did not support the inspection and that the disinfecting plan was not being done in good faith. Believing a second quarantine would be soon implemented, worried residents began to flee quietly and hide in friends' houses outside of Chinatown.

The Barbary plague : the Black Death in Victorian San Francisco / Marilyn Chase - Details - Trove

As days passed, more dead bodies were reported and autopsies revealed the presence of plague bacilli, indicating that a plague epidemic had hit San Francisco's Chinatown, but the health board still was trying to deny it. The health board attempted to keep all the information regarding the outbreak secret by implementing strict regulations of what physicians could write official death certificates. The official inspection and disinfection of Chinatown finally began, thanks to the monetary contributions of the supervisors of the volunteer physicians, policemen, and inspectors that participated in the actual disinfection campaign.

The sanitizing of Chinatown began to show results as the death toll slowly dropped throughout the month of March and the beginning of April. The cause of death of Law An was determined to be bubonic plague. After that, a few more Chinese residents that died suddenly were determined to be infested with plague bacilli. The controversy of the vaccination program organized by Kinyoun with the help of Surgeon General Wyman spiked.

The plan was to inoculate the Chinese residents with Haffkine's vaccine , a prophylactic anti-plague vaccine that was intended to provide some protection against the plague for a 6-month period. No one spoke about the side effects and that the vaccine was still not approved for humans. At first, representatives of the Chinese community had agreed that inoculating the population with such serum could be a reasonable and safe solution, but soon after agreed with the rest of the Chinese population in that it was not ethical to try the vaccine in humans first. The representatives from the Chinese Six companies demanded the vaccination program to be eliminated as an option, and with much pressure and insistence from the Chinese community the vaccination program was halted.

However, by then hundreds of Chinese, Japanese, other residents had already received the vaccine and were showing signs of horrific side effects from the injection. Joseph J. Kinyoun was feeling the pressure of the public to clear his reputation. He summoned the help of U. Surgeon General Walter Wyman to bring someone from the outside to investigate Kinyoun's procedures.


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White to manage the investigation surrounding all of the Pacific Coast stations. White wanted to focus on how food was handled while being imported from China and Japan. Kinyoun tried to hinder these advances because he did not want to publicly admit that there was an outbreak. White made his appearance in January White and Kinyoun attended the autopsy of Chun Way Lung who was said to have suffered from gonorrhea.

Wilfred Kellogg and Henry Ryfkogel conducted the autopsy and achieved respect from White by revealing that Lung had died from the bubonic plague. White concluded that Kinyoun's bacteriological confirmation could no longer be credible. Governor Gage refused to support the diagnoses that were verified by the competent Pasteurians in San Francisco. Kinyoun was starting to express his frustration and suggested that independent outside experts confirm that the plague was present.

White agreed and passed this information to the surgeon general. Kinyoun desired that his reputation be restored and that his findings were valid so that he could continue to investigate plague cases.


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The three scientists were appointed to an official commission to prove if the plague existed. Gage reacted by sending a telegram to President William McKinley urging that the federal experts work with state health authorities. Gage's request was not granted because the federal government wanted the commission to be allowed to work independently. They would relay all of their findings to the treasury department and then forwarded to Gage. Flexner, Novy, and Barker scheduled an inspection of the sick and dead on February 6.

The federal investigators split up the duties. Novy carried out bacteriological tests, while Barker accompanied by a Chinese interpreter visited the sick. By February 12, the team had studied six cases that all identified the characteristics of bubonic plague. This was confirmed by pathological and bacteriological data. Flexner, Novy, and Barker completed their investigation on February They met with Governor Gage the same day and informed him of their conclusion. Gage was upset and accused them of being a threat to public health. Over the next few weeks Gage questioned the diagnoses and blocked the publication of the final report.

He blamed the commission of being biased and influenced by Kinyoun. Finally the two senators for California proposed that Gage needed to engage in friendly cooperation with federal authorities. Gage sent representatives to Washington to reach an agreement for federal authorities to suppress their findings concerning the plague in San Francisco.

The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco
The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco The Barbary Plague: The Black Death in Victorian San Francisco

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