When Cambridge-trained Dr. Wu correctly diagnosed the 1910 Manchuria pandemic as pneumonic (airborne) plague, french doctor Mesny admonished Dr. Wu using a racial slur and asserting it was bubonic plague. To prove his point, Dr. Mesny toured a plague ward without a mask. He died six days later.

The Plague Fighter: Dr Wu Lien-Teh and His Work

The Penang-born doctor helped eradicate the deadly Manchurian pneumonic plague of 1910 and pushed for the use of face masks to prevent its spread. Kevin Y.L. Tan documents his life and work.

Wu Lien-Teh Collection, PictureSG, National Library, Singapore.

The year 2020 will be remembered as the time when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. As the virus spread through towns and cities, people were made to isolate themselves, to work from home and to don face masks when they went out.

Although few realise it, much of this is a replay of some of the protocols that were pioneered 110 years ago by a brilliant but now-forgotten Penang-born bacteriologist Wu Lien-Teh (伍連德) when he was tasked to deal with the Manchurian pneumonic plague of 191… Continue Reading (15 minute read)

8 thoughts on “When Cambridge-trained Dr. Wu correctly diagnosed the 1910 Manchuria pandemic as pneumonic (airborne) plague, french doctor Mesny admonished Dr. Wu using a racial slur and asserting it was bubonic plague. To prove his point, Dr. Mesny toured a plague ward without a mask. He died six days later.”

  1. ClownfishSoup

    So you don’t have to hunt through that really long article (which is worth the read, but for the impatient);

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    Initially, Wu’s plan met with opposition. Dr Gerald Mesny, a French professor at the Peiyang Medical College in Tianjin – who had experience dealing with the bubonic plague – insisted on being put in charge of operations. Mesny cast aside Wu’s plan with typical colonial arrogance. When Wu paid him a courtesy call and sat quietly, “trying to smile away their differences”, the Frenchman yelled threateningly, “You, you Chinaman, how dare you laugh at me and contradict your superior.”

    Wu reported the encounter and tendered his resignation, but the authorities asked him to stay while they suspended Mesny’s services. Unfortunately for Mesny, his failure to correctly diagnose the disease cost him his life. Thinking that it was another type of bubonic plague, Mesny went about examining patients without a mask. As a result, he caught the pneumonic plague and died six days later.[23](https://biblioasia.nlb.gov.sg/vol-16/issue-2/jul-sep-2020/plague#fn:23) Suddenly, everyone wanted the simple cotton and gauze mask that Wu had used and recommended. Volunteers were soon producing them by the thousands.

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  2. peachy_sam

    “Wu also wrote about the non-medical difficulties that doctors faced. In the city of Harbin, rumours circulated that the plague hospital’s staff poisoned wells, flour and food in order to kill patients and earn the $3 they were paid for each dead body.”

    The more things change…

    That was a fascinating read; thanks for posting.

  3. rognabologna

    Dr. Wu Lien-Teh invented the surgical face mask

  4. thejiggyman

    This has strong Rudy Gobert vibes

  5. BitterFuture

    Six days isn’t instant karma, but man, that’s damn close.

  6. anonymous_crouton

    All I heard was Steely Dan in my head the whole time I was reading. What is this about?

  7. dennismfrancisart

    Some things never change. The South Koreans were baffled by the US response last year when Covid 19 was starting to rage.

  8. Shovenor_General

    Science is self-correcting. Sometimes dramatically so.

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