Event Date
1925
Included in All Dates?
Yes
Unique ID
102225
Associated Media Filename

000255.jpg, 000261.jpg

Internal Notes

Also in Society

An outbreak of diphtheria in Alaska led to the famous Nenana-to-Nome dog sled run of antitoxin to treat the sick children.

Curtis Welch, a physician in Nome, saw several children die of what he first thought was tonsillitis. As more children reported sore throats, he observed the white pseudomembrane of diphtheria.

Welch had no fresh antitoxin on hand; he had only expired antitoxin because the shipment he had ordered in 1924 had not arrived. He sent a telegram requesting mail delivery of antitoxin. A hospital in Anchorage had 300,000 units of antitoxin and shipped it by train to Nenana, 674 miles from Nome. The shipment would need to travel by dog sled to reach the children of Nome.

The journey of 20 teams of mushers and sled dogs from Nenana to Nome transfixed the country. The mushers battled near record low temperatures along the way, and they had to stop periodically to warm the serum. Many dogs died during the trip. Several of the mushers suffered frostbite.

The antitoxin reached Nome on February 2, when Welch quickly used it to treat the many sick children in his hospital. He reported that five children had died, but thought the toll might have been higher because many native Alaskans might not have reported deaths.

Togo and Balto, two of the lead sled dogs, received national attention. A statue of Balto still stands in Central Park in New York City.

Related Media
Diseases & Vaccines
Diphtheria