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  • It's late September 1924 and a group of migrant workers from Mexico are sitting in

  • a small neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles having a beer and listening to a tale that

  • is being told by a day laborer for the Los Angeles Railway.

  • His name is Jesus and he regales his buddies with the hilarious story of how he'd been

  • living with a terrible stench in his house, but he had no idea where it was coming from.

  • Jesus got to work, turning his house upside down, but he couldn't find anything rotten.

  • Then he wondered, what about under the house.

  • He soon found the cause of the awful smell.

  • It was a rat…a dead, rotting rat.

  • He picked the thing up and threw it in the trash can.

  • One week later and people were no longer laughingthey were now crying at the death of Jesus and

  • his daughter.

  • Soon others in the neighborhood would drop like flies.

  • Jesus had started a plague.

  • His full name was Jesus Lajun and that neighborhood contained a vibrant community of people mostly

  • of Latino descent.

  • He lived at 700 Clara Street, which would later become known asThe Death House”,

  • but as you will see, it wasn't the only death house on that street.

  • Worse things would happen a few doors down.

  • The neighbourhood was a bustling place back in the day, but as you all know, busy places

  • are not so great when a virus breaks out.

  • You see, Jesus had contracted the bubonic plague from that dead rat, and what happened

  • after was the last plague epidemic in the USA.

  • We're guessing a lot of you are thinkingwait a minute, isn't the bubonic plague that

  • thing from the Middle Ages that wiped out good chunks of Europewasn't the plague

  • dead and buried centuries ago?

  • The answer is noit's still hereit's been here all the time...it's still in the

  • good ole USA right now, but there aren't many cases these days.

  • In fact, if you look at the CDC's website you can see that in 2018 there was just one

  • confirmed case of plague in the U.S.. 2015 was a bad year regarding the American

  • plague, because 16 people got it that year and 4 of them died.

  • One of the victims was just 16 years old.

  • This wasn't called an outbreak because the cases happened in various states in the U.S.

  • over the entire year, so the 1924 plague was what we now call the last outbreak of this

  • pestilence.

  • Ok, before we get back to Jesus and the chaos he unknowingly caused, we think you need to

  • know just a little bit more about the plague.

  • Here's a short plague 101 for you, just so you don't get panicked when there's

  • already a panic-demic going on right now.

  • Over 80 percent of plague victims come down with the bubonic form.

  • The other forms of plague are Septicemic plague and Pneumonic plague.

  • They relate to infections of the blood and of the lungs.

  • If you get the bubonic plague, you'll feel like crap and get a fever and a headache and

  • you won't have any energy.

  • You will then get little bumps on your body.

  • These are swollen lymph nodes and we call them buboes.

  • That's kind of a cute word, fitting for a cartoon character of a cute puppy, but buboes

  • are nasty things and they hurt a lot.

  • The bubonic plague, as was discovered by millions of people hundreds of years ago, can be deadly.

  • The bad news is, it's estimated that if it's left untreated it will kill 66% to 93%

  • of its victims.

  • The good news is these days we can treat it with antibiotics and the mortality rate now

  • for treated people is anywhere from one to 15 percent.

  • Ok, so, on the first day there was Jesus, and Jesus picked up a rat.

  • That rat had fleas, and Jesus was bitten by one of them.

  • That terrible flea was only doing what fleas do, and it certainly wasn't aware that it

  • was carrying something called the Yersinia pestis bacteria.

  • It passed this ungodly bacteria to Jesus, and on the second day, Jesus spread the word

  • of his rat story to others and others later died.

  • On the sixth day, Jesus was a dead man.

  • So, within the rat community of this poor Los Angeles neighborhood there were fleas

  • carrying the plague, and you certainly didn't want to get up close to one of them.

  • By the way, when animals transmit a disease to humans we call thiszoonosis”.

  • Jesus was what we called theIndex Patient”, which means he was the first reported case.

  • Soon after he found the stinky dead rat he developed a painful lump in his groin and

  • felt really unwell.

  • The problem is, that bacteria had spread to his lungs, and so Jesus was capable of spreading

  • the plague around through airborne droplets of the bacterium.

  • It then turned into the more deadly pneumonic plague, which is transmissible to humans.

  • His doctor didn't believe he had the plague, and said instead he had some kind of venereal

  • disease and that was why he has swollen lymph nodes.

  • That was a deadly mistake that doctor made, because Jesus passed the pneumonic plague

  • to his daughter.

  • Her name was Francisca and she experienced respiratory problems and the doctors said

  • she had pneumonia, not the plague.

  • A week later and she was dead.

  • The cause of death was wrongly stated to have been double pneumonia, but any medical professional

  • should have had plague on their mind.

  • You see, in the year 1900 it's thought that a ship that landed in San Francisco which

  • had come from China had a rat living on it.

  • The rat, or rats, disembarked at the city and then went scurrying around, all of them

  • carrying deadly fleas in their fur.

  • People later started dropping dead from what certainly looked like plague, but the city

  • didn't close the port and tried to convince people there was no plague on U.S. soil.

  • A plague outbreak was very bad for business.

  • Most of the media did the same and wrote headlines like this one, “No Genuine Plague: Sensational

  • Stories Are Without Foundation.”

  • The headline was wrong, and from 1900 to 1908 there were 280 plague cases and 172 deaths

  • in San Francisco.

  • The city did a good job of exterminating the vermin, but those fleas had a habit of jumping

  • onto other animals.

  • Those animals, including those dear cuties the squirrels, travelled around a bit and

  • the plague eventually reached LA in 1924.

  • Shortly after Francisca died, a pregnant woman who'd been taking care of her also died

  • and she had the same symptoms.

  • Her name was Lucena Samarano and soon her entire family of eight would all be dead.

  • Her house, 742 Clara Street, was calledThe Death House.”

  • Lucena's cause of death was listed asheart disease.”

  • Soon her husband became ill, and died...her friend got it, and died, and eventually all

  • her kids got it, and died.

  • In fact, a lot of folks who went near that house got very sick and died within days.

  • So really...heart disease...

  • Then a Catholic priest who had given last rights to some of the deceased came down with

  • the exact same symptoms.

  • And guess what, he did the talking at Lucena's funeral service at 742 Clara Street, and as

  • you can imagine, in that small tight-knit community a lot of folks turned up to that

  • service.

  • The priest died, too.

  • These people had no idea what was going on and looked up to the heavens and asked God

  • for answers, when they should really have been looking under their floorboards.

  • The authorities should have known sooner, since one doctor that travelled to that poor

  • neighborhood, a place where people lived in absolute squalor, noticed that there were

  • a lot of very sick people.

  • Some of them could hardly breathe, and some were deathly ill.

  • A few people were taken to hospital but still the diagnosis was not plague, with different

  • doctors saying it must be meningitis, or influenza, or pneumonia, or even typhus.

  • Ok, so you'd think that people would have been shouting plague from the rooftops by

  • now, but it wasn't until one month after Jesus kicked the bucket that a Los Angeles

  • County Hospital pathologist identified the disease and announced, “Hey guys, we've

  • got a plague outbreak going on here.”

  • That doctor, a guy named George Manor, stepped up and said this looks like plague.

  • With the help of a colleague, he looked through a microscope and what he saw was the deadly

  • Yersinia pestis bacteria.

  • "Beautiful but damned,” said Manor after seeing the true cause of deaths in that community.

  • Meanwhile, friends and relatives of the deceased kept dying, either in hospitals or in their

  • own homes.

  • People panickedthey isolated themselves.

  • The blame game came next, and quite a few not so intelligent people from outside the

  • neighborhood started saying things such as, “This is a Mexican disease.”

  • 90 percent of those that died were indeed Mexican, but that didn't mean it was a Mexican

  • disease.

  • They had just been the unfortunate folks who had no choice but to live in squalid houses

  • where there were lots of rats.

  • Quarantine then began and the neighborhood where the disease had started was sectioned

  • off and guarded by police and volunteers.

  • No one in, no one out, was the order given, in what they called, “The Mexican District.”

  • Around 1,800 to 2,500 people were confined to that district, and at the same time panic

  • ensued all over the USA, especially when people read headlines like this one which was published

  • in the New York Times, “Pneumonic Plague Takes Seven More Victims.”

  • How has the ancient disease gotten here in the new world,” people screamed.

  • The Black Death is on our doorstep,” others shouted.

  • LA, for many outsiders, was the picture-perfect, postcard paradise of the USA.

  • Health authorities soon started telling all people in the city to keep their homes clean.

  • An announcement was then given.

  • Gatherings of all nature must now stop.”

  • Movie houses were empty and kids were kept away from school.

  • LA was in the grip of a great panic, and when trolley cars went near the damned neighborhoods

  • the conductors shouted, “No one gets on and no one gets off.”

  • The Los Angeles mayor, one George Cryer, called an emergency meeting.

  • Present were health officials, and also anyone with big business interests in the city.

  • The question was, should they shut the city down, and how much would that damage business.

  • Some emergency procedures were set in place, but there was no city shutdown.

  • Anyone suspected of having the plague had to be sent to a special part of the county

  • hospital.

  • Funeral directors were ordered not to embalm the bodies of Mexicans, or anyone else whose

  • death was of undetermined causes.

  • Soon five urban districts were cordoned off by rope and around them stood 400 quarantine

  • guards.

  • Some of those guys had fought in the First World War, so those were some tough dudes.

  • No one in, no one out, and another order, “No Shooting.”

  • Well, they did shoot any dogs, cats, or chickens that got too close to them.

  • Charities got together and delivered essential items to those in quarantine, and brave medical

  • workers visited the neighborhoods.

  • Meanwhile, rumors persisted in the U.S. that hundreds of Mexicans were dying in those sectioned

  • off neighborhoods.

  • The cleanup started, and it was fierce.

  • Houses were ripped apart; some entire shacks were burned to the ground.

  • Petroleum and Sulphur were sprayed in houses and lime and rat poison were scattered everywhere.

  • Within months, around 2,500 buildings had been completely destroyed, and yet, no compensation

  • at all was granted to the people who had been displaced from their home.

  • One LA resident later commented on what he saw from outside one of those neighborhoods.

  • He said, “It was an eerie sight to see the 'sky high' flames at night and the reflections

  • in the river, as well as the shadowy figures of firemen running around the quarantined

  • area.”

  • The neighborhoods in theMacy Street DistrictandLittle Mexico,” with their ramshackle

  • dwellings were pretty much burned to the ground.

  • It was the best of times, and the worst of times, because some people were kind and helpful

  • to those quarantined people, but others were not so nice.

  • LA's Chamber of Commerce chief actually implied that the problem was Mexicans and

  • how they lived.

  • Some people risked their lives going into those neighborhoods to help out.

  • Mexican bands turned up outside the quarantined areas and played music for the people inside.

  • At the same time, others used the disease to propagate xenophobia and racism against

  • Mexicans and other minorities, something that we often see in times of crises even today.

  • What happened next was the great rat extermination program.

  • The city spent a whopping $250,000 on finding and killing those flea carrying pests.

  • That amount is close to four million in today's money.

  • It wasn't only the Mexican neighborhoods that got the treatment, poor neighborhoods

  • consisting mostly of Russian, Chinese and Japanese immigrants were also part of the

  • program.

  • In fact, a neighborhood that was back then called Chinatown was also pretty much destroyed.

  • What's surprising, is that it was only when the occupants of those quarantined neighborhoods

  • saw this going on that they found out that rats were the problem and that they had been

  • dying of the plague.

  • They'd actually been kept in the dark as to what was happening.

  • In fact, the media had been told not to make a big issue of what was going one.

  • Certain media urged people not to join in the hysterical gossip about a plague killing

  • hundreds of people.

  • One LA official had a meeting and warned the attendees, “No disease known has such an

  • effect upon the business world as the plague."

  • Some journalists wrote that the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce had tried to play down

  • what happened because of the possibility of economic collapse and land values dropping.

  • Remember that the City of Angels back then was seen as the place to be, and if it became

  • the place of the plague people would leave and tourists would turn their backs on the

  • city.

  • The quarantine and rat extermination program worked, and in the end around 30 people lost

  • their lives to the plague.

  • The main problem was that it was turned into an ethnic disease and many people lost their

  • homes and got nothing back.

  • Now go watch this show, “What Made The Black Death (The Plague) so Deadly?” or this show,

  • Why Spanish Flu Killed Over 50 Million People - Deadliest Plague in Modern History.”

It's late September 1924 and a group of migrant workers from Mexico are sitting in

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Modern Plague That Ravaged a Major US City

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    Summer posted on 2020/07/31
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