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AIDS Adds to Epidemic History

March 14, 1986

Roark's description of the outbreak of pneumonic-bubonic plague in Los Angeles in 1924 brings back memories of fear and apprehension that gripped our household at the time.

My father was then surgeon for the Southern Pacific and headed the local medical department of the company. Many SP workers lived in the quarantined areas or nearby and were in and out of his office.

I recall my father saying that he had taken the precaution of being vaccinated against the disease but that the inoculation was only 75% effective at best. It was rumored that most, if not all, of the County Hospital crew that picked up the patients for delivery to the contagious ward of the hospital died of the disease.

The news of the outbreak was kept very quiet and most of my contemporaries were unaware that an incipient epidemic in the fall of 1924 had been faced by the local medical community and governmental authorities, and had been stemmed by heroic measures without community hysteria or panic.

These were various speculations about the origin of the disease in East Los Angeles. One theory was that it had come from Mexico; another had it that local rats had been infected by fleas from field rodents. According to Roark, it is believed that the disease came to California originally via the San Francisco docks. It is now regarded as an endemic disease in the state.

G.S. HALL JR.

San Marino

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