Wednesday, March 10, 2021

SearchResearch Challenge (3/10/21): Epidemic historical context?


"This isn't our first rodeo.." 

... is sometimes said to describe a repeat of a situation that's complicated.

And that's the case with the COVID pandemic--it's not the first time the world has had a terrible time with large scale epidemics.  

We touched on this a few months ago with our research into the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, but it's worth returning to the rodeo to gain a bit of historical context.  As we've noted before, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes" 

(Attributed to Mark Twain, but probably James Eayrs. See QuoteInvestigator's analysis.)  

So let's revisit the Epidemic Rodeo and see what lessons we might take away.  

1. In the Swine Flu epidemic of 1976, a strange new device was used to quickly give many immunizations to a large number of people.  (You'll know it when you find it.)  What was that device, and why aren't we using it to rapidly immunize people with the COVID vaccine?  

2. Can you find the first large scale program to immunize people from smallpox in the Americas?  Who did it?  

3. As we've learned, vaccine injectable materials often require special handling. The Pfizer vaccine requires a refrigeration between -80C and -60C. So, how was the smallpox vaccine transported in the answer to the previous question? 

4. Yellow Fever epidemics have ravaged many places around the world forever.  And while Yellow Fever used to be an enormous problem in New York, it isn't any more.  Why not?  Was it due to the success of the Yellow Fever vaccination program? Or what? 

As always, we all want to learn from HOW you found the answers.  Each one isn't difficult, but might require a bit of that SRS skillset.  Tell us how you did it! 

Search on! 


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell and everyone

    Started with [small pox vaccine transportation first days] And found interesting links and a rekation with Mexico!

    a vaccine chain Says the how, when and where. Also mentions:It is estimated that the expedition immunized over 100,000 people.

    CDC smallpox
    Mentions: Variolation and History

    Reading made me remember R number, which is mentioned in the very interesting book by Adam Kucharski: The Rules of Contagion

    Searched for the Reproduction number, Wikipedia Smallpox is 3.5 to 6

    I'll keep reading and Searching

    1. Once more, Our Challenge has a connection with something special.

      Today (March 10) : Google Dooodle

      Today’s Doodle celebrates the 142nd birthday of Chinese-Malaysian epidemiologist Dr. Wu Lien-teh, who invented a surgical face covering that is widely considered the precursor to the N95 mask.

    2. For Q1

      [ Swine flu immunization device used] and with those results, searched for the second part

      [Jet injector Covid]

      A COVID-19 vaccine may come without a needle, the latest vaccine to protect without jabbingDNA based ones

    3. [Yellow fever NY eradication] and after that changed NY to New York

      3 diseases

      Yellow fever vaccination is typically performed only in areas where the disease is endemic

      Manhattan Island during the 1790s, and even as late as the 1820s

      [how New York stopped yellow fever]

      The 18th-century Yellow Fever pandemic that led to NYC’s first Health Department

      Searched in Spanish and found

      Coronavirus: el hospital de Nueva York que se enfrentó a la fiebre amarilla, el cólera, el sida, el ébola y ahora la covid-19Bellevue Hospital, pioneer in many ways

    4. As I have mentioned, almost every Challenge I found (without searching for it) connections. This week, the Google Dooodle about N95 Masks and a few minutes ago could read this article about smallpox, New York and vaccination. Also includes Mexico as the source of infection (that was unlucky for that patient.) Now I am wondering, what happened with Mexico and the Smallpox. Reading the article, noticed they mentioned patient zero, which was a creation of Hollywood. In epidemics, for what I have been reading, the name is different. It's an Index. Patient zero started with The Band Played On.

      How New York City Vaccinated 6 Million People in Less Than a Month Article shared by Dr. Eric Topol on Twitter

      Also want to say that on Adam's book smallpox's R is 20 not 3.5 to 6 as Wikipedia article mentions. (Maybe the how the number is calculated is the difference)

  2. Not actually a vaccine, because they did not exist yet, but George Washington decided to inoculate all American troops who had never had smallpox at a time when inoculation was a crude process, to protect his army from contagion during an outbreak.

  3. 1. [Swine Flu epidemic of 1976, injection device] finds wikipedia Jet injector. Not using it because of its propensity to spread diseases.

    2. [first large scale program to immunize people from smallpox in the Americas?] finds A Reputable source indeed. it explains that: Under the guidance of the Rev. Cotton Mather (1663–1728) and Dr. Zabdiel Boylston (1679–1766), variolation became quite popular in the colonies.

    3. Same source as #2: The inoculator usually used a lancet wet with fresh matter taken from a ripe pustule of some person who suffered from smallpox. The material was then subcutaneously introduced on the arms or legs of the nonimmune person. TB and syphillis were inadvertently spread by this method.

    3.1 Got to wondering why smallpoxs vaccine is NOT injected. tells all. The virus used is a harmless first cousin to variola. It begins to multiply as soon as it gets in about 1mm to the dermis layer of skin. So, all that's needed is a 2 pronged needle to scratch the skin and that is all. Then the scarring develops leaving a dime sized mark. Usally on the upper arm except for girls who were variolanated where the scar will not show so much.

    4. [Yellow Fever used to be an enormous problem in New York, it isn't any more.] finds NPR & NY TImes: After World War II, the world had DDT in its arsenal of mosquito control measures, and mosquito eradication became the primary method of controlling yellow fever. states there is no cure for yellow fever. "Yellow fever vaccination is typically performed only in areas where the disease is endemic. Vaccination is available for those traveling to regions where the virus is still widespread."

  4. Gee, only 3 people in the world tried this. I think it was great fun and pertinent to today's bug. j