Event Date
1846
Included in All Dates?
Yes
Unique ID
100506
Associated Media Filename

000512.jpg

Danish physician Peter Panum was sent to the Faroe Islands (located in the North Atlantic, between Iceland and Scotland) to study a measles epidemic there. He spent approximately five months on the islands, noting that although measles was traditionally a disease of childhood in most parts of the world, it “attacked almost the entire population [of the Faroes] without respect to age.” Panum hypothesized that the same isolation that generally protected the Faroes from exposure to illness also led to increased mortality when a disease did reach the islands. He wrote:

It is obvious, then, that prophylactic measures against the introduction and spread of foreign diseases are of very great importance in such places, where they can be put into execution, as, for example, on the Faroes; whereas they are of no importance where they are rendered impracticable by a great conflux of people and by other conditions, as in Copenhagen. Here [In Copenhagen], therefore, an edict of quarantine against measles would seem ludicrous, but the Faroe Islands would probably not have lost nearly 100 inhabitants if an edict directed against the introduction of measles had not been removed some years ago.”

Panum also took advantage of the isolated nature of the islands to study the transmission of the disease. He observed that the measles rash appeared approximately fourteen days after a person was exposed to infective matter, and that surviving the infection resulted in lifelong immunity against the disease.

"The isolated situation of the villages, and their limited intercourse with each other, made it possible in many, in fact in most cases, to ascertain where and when the person who first fell ill had been exposed to the infection, and to prove that the contagion could not have affected him either before or after the day stated… In Fuglefjord, on Østerø, on account of my observations, I acquired the reputation of being able to prophesy. On my first arrival there, the daughter of Farmer J. Hansen, churchwarden, had recently had measles, but had then got up, and, except for a slight cough, was almost entirely well. All the other nine persons in the house were feeling well in every respect and expressed the hope that they would escape the disease. I inquired as to what day the exanthem [rash] had appeared on the daughter, asked for the almanac, and pointed to the fourteenth day after that… with the remark that they should make a black line under that date, for I feared that on it measles would show itself on others in the house… As it turned out I was summoned to Fuglefjord again ten days later and was met with the outcry: ‘What he said was correct! On the day he pointed out the measles broke out, with its red spots, on all nine.’”

Related Media
Diseases & Vaccines
Measles