The story of the Black Death in San Francisco in 1904, which had a death rate of up to 60 percent

2022-05-13 0 By

The Black Death was one of the most devastating diseases in human history, killing hundreds of millions of people over hundreds of years.In the mid-13th century, the bacterium formally known as plague wiped out more than half of Europe’s population, an event often referred to as the Black Death.It’s an ugly and painful process, and soon after infection comes fever, nausea and “groin,” or swollen and extremely soft lymph nodes in the armpits, neck and groin.After that, the body begins to decay rapidly, the skin and nails turn black, and the person is still alive, though not for long.The mortality rate for bubonic plague during the Bubonic Plague was between 60 and 100%, depending on the location of infection.Over the centuries, the bacterial beast has reared its ugly head again and again, but thanks to isolation invented by the Venetians, it was relatively well contained after the Black Death.Until 1900, when the plague finally made its way to the shores of Hawaii by ship, there was soon a bizarre outbreak in Hawaii, and a bizarre event in China a few years earlier, so San Francisco’s misfortune may have originated in Hong Kong’s plague of 1855.San Francisco’s medical community is no slouch, however.When they learned of the outbreak in Hawaii, they began quarantining incoming ships and implementing a massive sanitation program to regularly clean up city trash and remove rodents to prepare for a possible spread to port cities.Unfortunately, we know today that it is the fleas, not the rats themselves, that really carry the disease, so the plague has crept recklessly into the city, its merciless claws hooked on Chinatown.The health board immediately responded by imposing a mandatory police quarantine on the area, but the move was unpopular with Chinatown residents and the local government, who feared that news of the outbreak would hurt tourism and that closing businesses would cause huge damage to the economy.As Mark Twain (who probably never did) said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”The quarantine was quickly lifted, and doctors went door-to-door to check on residents’ health.An extremely radical approach was initially taken, with doctors offering untested vaccines, but Chinatown residents understandably balked at the idea.Although the vaccine proved to be safe, Ethnic Chinese suspected they were victims of racial prejudice, as whites were allowed to come and go at will and Chinese residents were monitored.Chinatown sued, and the court agreed that the measures were at least in part racially motivated, so all segregation ended.Bodies began to pile up, but the health board was reluctant to take any other drastic action because of pressure from the government.In fact, California Gov. Henry Gage denied that an outbreak even existed, calling doctors a bunch of “plague counterfeiters,” even though LABS had identified a deadly strain.Gage’s decision to cover up the epidemic led to a protest movement against several leading health experts, notably Joseph J.Kinyon, who was in charge of containment efforts.Kinyon was highly respected in his field, and many historians today consider him the father of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his efforts to create NIH’s forerunner, the American Sanitary Laboratory.Despite this, he refused to help cover up the facts, even rebuffing bribes from parties interested in hiding news of the California plague outbreak, and was rewarded for his honesty with a demotion and permanent relocation to the Detroit lab.Gage did everything he could, including threatening the University of California, Berkeley, not to continue research on the disease.The disease eventually spread, however, as newspapers around the country began publishing articles about people dropping like flies in San Francisco’s Chinatown.After 100 people died, the federal government and Gage’s Republican Party turned on the governor, quickly mobilizing their combined forces to remove him from office.Gage left office in disgrace and contempt in 1903.He was replaced by a doctor named George Paddy.The plague continued to claim lives, but thanks to the new leadership’s willingness to work with the medical community, the government did a better job of “flattening the curve,” as we call it today.Sadly, Chinatown’s woes are far from over.On April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m., San Francisco was hit by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake, the deadliest in U.S. history.Almost every inch of Chinatown went up in flames, but somehow even that wasn’t enough to really eradicate the disease.In fact, the Black Death had always existed in the United States, especially in the Western states.Somewhere, the malevolent monster looms out of the body of a flea, waiting to wreak havoc on the world again.But, as a joke, thank God we now have antibiotics.