The deadliest epidemic in history and the political coverup to hide it

The deadliest epidemic in history and the political coverup to hide it

February 7, 2023

Bubonic plague: Expert on how Black Death ‘killed millions’

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On February 7, 1900, Chick Gin, a 41-year-old American-Chinese worker fell ill in San Francisco. Just under a month later, he was found dead in a basement of a hotel in Chinatown. When his corpse was examined in the morgue, the doctor realise that he had died from the bubonic plague as he had odd-looking nodules on his body. The Black Death had arrived in America for the first time — but many tried to deny this fact with devastating results.

The Black Death was one of the deadliest diseases humanity has ever encountered: it is estimated that some 25 million people died from the bubonic plague which first caused havoc in 1346.

Officials were terrified that the highly infectious disease would arrive in America. Predominantly carried by rodents, the disease could make its way across the sea via ports.

It eventually, did and following the death of Mr Gin, San Francisco’s Chinatown was put under strict quarantine. But, the news was quickly dispelled by businessmen who feared that the Board of Health’s claim that the plague had arrived would damage their income and the city’s business prospects.

Some media organisations got on board with this idea. The San Francisco Chronicle’s front page was plastered with the headline “plague fake is part of a plot to plunder”. Another newspaper, the Bulletin, was also anti-quarantine, writing that tourists and cargo were avoiding the port. Succumbing to pressure, the Board of Health then cancelled the quarantine.

On March 11 that year, medical researcher and federal official Joseph Kinyoun confirmed that Mr Gin had died from the black death. More and more deaths followed until the threat of an epidemic loomed.

Two months later, Mr Kinyoun wanted the matter to be raised with the President, demanding that “regulations as may be necessary to prevent the spread of this disease” be implemented.

Although President William McKinley agreed, the government was wary of upsetting California’s Republican governor, Henry Gage, and the business owners.

The Republican lawyer’s approach was “business first, bodies second.” He then sought to defame the federal Marine Hospital Service, which was overseeing the quarantines.

He spent $100,000 dollars on the campaign, some $3.5million today [£2.91million], and denounced the findings of the U.S. Surgeon General. Not only this but Mr Gage also attempted to pass a law that would have made it illegal for the press to report on the plague.

While some laws had made it impossible to get medical information out there, the likes of the Sacramento Bee were still reporting honestly on the epidemic meaning the bubonic plague outbreak was not the best-kept secret.

Although the Chronicle continued to argue that talk of the plague was a vicious rumour, intended to harm the city’s prospects, other states were more sceptical and were considering stopping trade until the matter was resolved.

Mr Kinyoun became a target — deemed the “plague fakers” by the deniers — and because he refused to be manipulated into saying what the naysayers wanted him to do, he was blamed for deliberately plotting to infect Mr Gin, and then arrested for some time. Unfortunately, his career never quite recovered.

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Other states began to grow weary and the Secretary of the Treasury insisted that a study be carried out to get to the bottom of the matter. However, the only way to carry this out without infuriating Mr Gage was to keep the results quiet.

New cases of the plague were found but Mr Gage still refused to admit that this was the case, despite being personally updated. By 1903, California came under further pressure and Mr Gage’s staunch stance saw him be alienated from his party.

He was then replaced by a doctor as governor who then sought to cut down on San Francisco’s rat population.

This approach appears to have worked as the last case was recorded in 1904 with there being more than 120 cases of the plague recorded — however, this figure is deemed to be an underestimate.

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