Return to Home 
Research Center Directory 




Flu Strikes Point Barrow

(Associated Press)

Leon Vincent, Office of the Indian Affairs teacher at Point Barrow, who summoned aerial aid when 500 Eskimos and all nurses except the head nurse and one native girl fell ill of influenza, credited an artist, "Rusty" Hurlene, who was visiting the farthest north Alaska settlement, with saving at least 100 lives.

"Hurline and Miss Margaret Pierky, our third-grade teacher, and I gave 3,000 sulfa tablets before aid arrived,"  Vincent reported," and it is my personal opinion that Hurline probably saved 100 lives by his tireless efforts among the igloos.

"His outstanding performance has resulted in the Eskimos calling sulfa "Rusty's pills'."

The white population of the trading village on Point Barrow virtually was untouched by the epidemic.

"With the hospital full and all the nurses down except for Head Nurse Cassey Vinson and a single native girl, I telegraphed Indian Office at Juneau an urgent plea for help," Vincent said.  "The response was immediate, but the weather and plane accidents delayed the arrival.

"Meanwhile there were 70 igloos full of prostrate Eskimos, with indications of much pneumonia and the natives too weak to keep the fires burning or cook meals.

"Entire families were forced to take gasoline cans full of ice to bed with them to melt it by body heat for drinking water.  There was frost up the walls to the windows and steam rising form the fever sufferers.

"The nurse was unable to leave the hospital, but she did agree to my plea for wholesale distribution of sulfa drugs.

"We three (Hurline, Miss Pierky, and Vincent) divided the village attempting to start fires and to give sulfa to all the sufferers.

"It was necessary to work night ad day to insure keeping the schedule for administering the drug, as the natives were unable to understand the periodic dosage, and to insure a plentiful use of water which was absolutely necessary, and to watch for bad reactions from the sulfa in individuals.

"The Eskimos taking sulfa all began slow recovery.  There had been nine deaths in two days before use of the drug.  The pills, deeply scored to facilitate breaking, 'looks like a screw with the frost on', the Eskimos said."

Field Nurse J. Gromtzeff arrived from St. Lawrence island via Kotzebue and Fairbanks on the night of February 12, and took charge of the worst pneumonia cases.

Army search planes found Dr. Edward Sienfeld, Office of Indian Affairs physician, forced down on an emergency flight to Barrow, after he spent several days on the Arctic tundra and he has recovered from exposure.

He finally reached Barrow six days after leaving Kotzebue, bringing the first penicillin ever administered in the Arctic.


Source: Associated Press, "Flu Strikes Point Barrow." Alaska Life: The Territorial Magazine.  Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Life Publishing Co., April, 1945.




ęCopyright 2015 Alaska Trails to the Past All Rights Reserved
For more information contact the Webmistress