Case #1937: unknown neuroinfection.
The disease resulted in fever, inflammation of the brain, paralysis, and often ended fatally. It appeared only in summer time. The indigenous population did not suffer from this strange disease as much as the settlers.
Moscow specialists were involved in the study of the virus. Three complex research expeditions were organized in 1937-1938, in which specialists of different profiles took part.
The 1937 expedition led by Prof. Lev Alexandrovich Zilber was of great importance in the discovery of the new virus.
The expedition consisted of:
- virologists Elizaveta Levkovich, Mikhail Chumakov, Nikolai Ryzhov, A.M. Tkacheva, Alexandra Sheboldaeva, Antonina Shubladze;
- epidemiologists Tamara Safonova, Vitalia Olshevskaya;
- entomologists Alexander Gutsevich, Alexandra Skrynik, and Alexander Monchadsky;
- pathomorphologists Pavel Grachev, Alexander Kestner;
- Laboratory virologists Galina Zorina-Nikolayeva and Evgenia Gnevysheva.
They were joined by a group of doctors-bacteriologists, neurologists and infectious disease specialists: Israel Filkel, Alexander Panov, Alexei Shapoval, who worked in the Far East.
It was the head of the neurological department of the Vladivostok military hospital, Alexander Panov, who first described the new neuroinfection in 1934, but defined it as epidemic encephalitis or adult poliomyelitis, and in 1935 prepared a report to the People's Commissariat of Health on the new disease. His pioneering work laid the clinical foundation for the remarkable discoveries of the People's Commissariat of Health expeditions of 1937-1939.
The expedition also included Valentin Solovyev, a doctor of the Vladivostok hospital, a bacteriologist of the sanitary-epidemiological laboratory, seconded to the expedition by the sanitary department of the Pacific Ocean Fleet (POF). Subsequently, he took part in the expeditions of 1938-1939.
When approving the composition of the expedition, Lev Zilber resolutely refused the proposal of the People's Commissariat of Health to staff the group with professors. He relied on young scientists (mostly under 30 years of age), enthusiastic and able to easily accept new ideas and methods. Many years later, he recalled:
"Of course I collected them and warned them of the dangers and difficulties and everything else; the young people had in my eyes the great advantage of not being bound by old misconceptions about the disease."
The expedition participants traveled by rail in a passenger Pullman car, laboratory equipment and animals (5 thousand guinea pigs and mice) - in the luggage compartment. Only the monkeys were missing. At Lev Zilber's request, macaques were purchased in Japan and sent to meet the expedition. The monkeys were needed for decisive experiments.
Each participant of the expedition realized that ahead of them awaited a "meeting" with a new neuroinfection, for which there is no cure yet. In case of the disease, the only hope is to rely on the strength and endurance of the organism.
Prof. Silber made an original decision.
He began to feed his employees eggs. They were bought in large quantities at the stations. The expedition members at first did not understand the strange behavior of their chief and were against feeding with eggs. But protests did not help. The chief at each large station invariably gave each member of the expedition a new portion of eggs, either soft-boiled or hard-boiled, and said in a moralizing manner:
"Eat up! The body's defenses don't come out of thin air. You bacteriologists should know that proteins are the material basis of immunity. Prepare to battle disease with six eggs a day. No less!"
During the train ride, the expedition's first responsibility was to take care of five thousand white mice: they die easily in normal laboratory conditions, and it is even more difficult to take care of them on the road. At every train stop, the staff together with the head of the expedition ran to the baggage car to feed the mice and clean their cages.
On the trip there were "Scientific Conferences on Wheels": they familiarized themselves with foreign literature on diseases of the Far East resembling the disease in the taiga. Prof. Zilber then organized conferences, and at them the participants of the expedition read abstracts and made reports.
The 1937 expedition worked from May to August and was divided into two groups. The northern group worked under the leadership of Elizaveta Levkovich in the hotbed of the disease - in the settlement of Obor (Khabarovsk Krai), the southern group - under the leadership of Alexandra Danilovna Sheboldaeva - at the bases of the Primorsky Krai Hospital, the Vladivostok Naval Hospital and other medical institutions of the Talnakh Concentration Fleet.
The composition of the second Far Eastern tick expedition of 1938 remained largely the same. Elizaveta Levkovich was appointed head of the northern Obor unit, and Professor Evgeny Pavlovsky, head of the department of the Military Medical Academy, was appointed head of the expedition.
The main focus of the expedition was the study of virus circulation and natural foci of infection, and the population was examined for immunity to tick-borne encephalitis. Immunity to the virus was detected in 43% residents of taiga settlements, who were frequently exposed to infection, and only in 3% administrative staff.
At the exhibition "Tick. Caught red-handed" you will see the participants of the second Far Eastern expedition in 1938 from the collection of the Museum of Local History of the Lazo Municipal District (Pereyaslavka settlement, Khabarovsk Krai).