Viruses, Plagues, and History

By Michael B. A. Oldstone | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 6

MEASLES VIRUS

When measles virus attacks people who for generations have been isolated from exposure to the virus, nearly everyone becomes infected and many die. By this means whole native tribes have been nearly obliterated. An example is Fiji, which was placed under administrative rule by the British Colonial government in the last half of the nineteenth century.To participate in signing the Colonial Treaty, the Chief of the Fiji people, Thacombau, traveled to Sydney, Australia. During the voyage home aboard His Majesty's ship Dido, on January 6, 1875, one of Thacombau's sons and a native attendant became ill and developed measles. Treatment followed the isolation procedures of the time, so the two patients were kept separate from the crew by quarantine in a temporary house built on the ship. By January 12, when the boat arrived at the native city of Levuki, both patients recovered and went ashore. But on January 14 and 15, another of Thacombau's sons came down with measles. Yet with festive plans already in place, on January 24 and 25, the other native

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