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In little more than three square kilometers, the nazi troops hacinaron in Warsaw (Poland) to 450,000 people, which meant about a third of its total population. It happened at the end of 1940 and this act constituted the largest jewish ghetto in Europe of the Second World War.

Located in the centre of the Polish capital, poor health conditions, starvation and a population density of five to ten times greater than any current city were the perfect breeding ground for an epidemic of typhus spread like wildfire.

it Is estimated that contracted the disease around 120,000 people in the ghetto, and more than 30,000 were killed, to which are added the deaths due to the shortage of food. However, in the autumn of 1941, when the population experienced the highest rate of hiv infections come to a close and the cold winter, the curve epidemic began to fall, until its extinction. How did you get to bend the curve in the ghetto?

The answer seems to lie in the prevention measures implemented by epidemiologists and the rest of the doctors held in the neighborhood and that its inhabitants followed to the letter. Is what concludes an international research published in the journal Science Advances and is directed by the biomatemático Lewi Stone, who has decades of modeling diseases.

The measures would from the social distancing to the quarantine domestic. will Also be encouraged for general hygiene, cleaning of the apartments and were set up soup kitchens to stop the famine.

Another of the strategies that could be key was the formation, with training courses on hygiene and public infectious diseases, in addition to hundreds of public lectures on how to fight the typhus, and even a medical university groundwater for young students.

The track of the ration cards

Stone found written records of these initiatives in numerous documentary sources. The researcher explains to SINC agency that has been able to have a very rough idea of what happened in the ghetto, thanks especially to two sources: the survivors and the records and journals written that were hidden and that now make up the Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto.

“My best sources were the records of epidemiologists, specialists within the ghetto. Professor Jacob Penson, head of ward of infectious diseases, published several records on this issue,” says Stone, who is a researcher of the Unit of Biomatemáticas of the University of Tel Aviv (Israel).

in Addition to the testimonies, the ration cards have been a fundamental piece of research. Imposed by the nazis to limit what they ate the jews, were spread on a monthly basis and have served to have an approximate idea of the population that was in the ghetto.

“As the number of ration cards decreased rapidly after march, 1941, we can assume reasonably that a large part of that change is due to a high mortality rate,” said the biomatemático.

As shown in the research, the numbers of the cards and the number of cases match: the fall of these primers coincided with the greatest number of deaths from typhus between April and October of 1941.

In fact, according to these cards, the number of deaths due to the epidemic of typhus in the ghetto, and the famine could have been much greater than what is reflected in the official records and could reach 100,000 dead in 1941 –nearly a quarter of the inhabitants of the district–, according to the scientists.

Unfortunately, although the preventive measures saved countless lives, the majority of the survivors were killed in the extermination camps to which they were deported.

The typhus encompasses a group of bacterial diseases spread by fleas and lice. In the case of the Warsaw ghetto, its population suffered from the typhus, jail fever, which is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia prowazekii transmitted by body louse. This disease was epidemic in the Europe of the Second World War and in cities such as Valencia, when in the Warsaw ghetto were trying to bend the curve, did the same in full Spanish civil war.

“The common denominator in both scenarios was the joint epidemiological, that is to say, the convergence of the ideal coordinates for the emergence and development of the typhus, jail fever and other acute infectious diseases: the hunger, overcrowding and lack of hygiene”, said to SINC Xavier Garcia-Ferrandis and Àlvar Martínez-Vidal, professors at the Catholic University of Valencia “San Vicente Mártir” and the University of Valencia, respectively.

The two experts on the history of medicine have studied the epidemic of typhus suffered by Valencia between 1941 and 1943. The difference between what happened in Poland and in the capital of the Turia was the context that led to two health crises. “The case of the Warsaw ghetto was a forced confinement for criminal purposes. The Spanish case was the direct result of almost three years of war and a policy of repression against the losers in the immediate post-war period”, allocate.

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