The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Dark days: the 1907 epidemic on Inishark, Co. Galway Ireland


1Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame, 2Department of Biology, University of Notre Dame

Saturday 10:00-10:15, Parlors Add to calendar

Modeling infectious disease in a 19th / 20th century island community requires an understanding of the biotic and abiotic environment. In this paper we present a case study from the remote island of Inishark, Co. Galway, Ireland, in which we develop a quantitative and qualitative framework of community epidemiology. Located 8 miles from the mainland, the village of Inishark provides a unique case study of key factors in epidemiological dynamics. In May of 1907 an epidemic, now believed to be typhus, occurred on Inishark. Analysis of census and daily school records from 1907 indicate that of a pediatric population of 50 the epidemic had an incidence rate of 22.4%, a case fatality rate (CFR) of 21.4%, and a mortality rate of 12.0%. School records indicate the principal outbreak lasted for 2.5 weeks and resulted in 6 pediatric deaths. While still poorly understood, this mortality rate is not seen in adult population. Ethnographic accounts, newspaper records and oral histories, indicate that island life was based on a dual piscatorial and agrarian economy that resulted in seasonal, highly variable, and at times unpredictable pattern of resource availability. December to April nutritional deficiencies overlapped with the period when islanders spend the highest amounts of time inside due to cold temperatures, rain and limited sunlight. Moreover, island homes were a nexus of pathogens and human hosts. Consideration of these factors allow for accurate understanding of 19th / 20th century island epidemiological dynamics in general, and modeling of the Inishark 1907 epidemic in specific.

This research was provided for by a grant from the John Tynan Family and the Nanovic Inistitute, University of Notre Dame.

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