West Hunter: Quarantine works, as example from 1918 Spanish flu pandemic shows

The 1918 influenza pandemic hit every country on Earth – well, almost every country. It missed American Samoa entirely, which is interesting. It’s even more interesting when you notice that it hit the neighboring islands of West Samoa harder than anywhere else.

Worldwide, the Spanish Flu killed 3-5% of the population – lower in most developed countries, which had better supportive therapy. Medicos had no useful vaccines or antiviral agents: in fact they mistakenly thought it was caused by a bacterium. Doctors were useless, but nurses were not…

The islands of Western Samoa were administered by New Zealand, which had recently seized them from Germany…Medical officers also waited for instructions – none came. In addition, plantation interests were important, and they opposed any quarantine, which was also the case in Fiji. So, no quarantine. Thing went very badly: so many were sick (~90% of the population) that few were left to care for them. Since food was mostly in gardens, rather in cupboards, people starved while weak. Europeans were less vulnerable, and those that could helped, but there were relatively few in American Samoa. 20-25% of the population died, concentrated among young adults, the highest death rate in the world.

American Samoa was physically quite close to Western Samoa, less than 100km…A policy of benign neglect was interpreted by Poyer as an opportunity to act on his best judgment, in the finest traditions of the US Navy. He imposed quarantine…They never had a single case…

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