Flu Strikes Point Barrow
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
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
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.