Wu Lien-teh: Face masks pioneer who helped defeat a plague epidemic

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At this time’s Google doodle celebrates Wu Lien-teh, an epidemiologist who pioneered using face masks to manage an epidemic over a century earlier than the arrival of covid-19.

Born in Penang, Malaysia, on at the present time in 1879 and educated within the UK, Wu was recruited to work on an endemic outbreak in northeastern China in December 1910. The primary folks to be affected have been marmot trappers and fur merchants, a part of a flourishing commerce in marmot pelts within the area.

From a postmortem examination – the primary carried out in China – Wu succeeded in isolating and culturing the bacterium liable for the illness, figuring out it as Yersinia pestis, which was identified from with earlier bubonic plague epidemics.


Wu understood that the illness might be unfold by respiratory droplets, and was not simply caught from rats or fleas as many believed on the time.

Wu produced a masks constructed from cotton and gauze, with additional layers of fabric and safer ties to enhance on earlier designs. He inspired medical workers and others to put on it to guard themselves, the primary time widespread masks use had been a part of an epidemic management technique. It was met with some resistance, nevertheless: a French colleague died of the plague after refusing to put on a masks.

Wu suggested authorities to impose restrictions on motion, together with stopping trains, to restrict the unfold of the illness, and instruct sick folks to self-isolate. He additionally persuaded officers to sanction the cremation of lifeless our bodies, which was not usually accepted in China.

The final case of the illness was recorded in March 1911. It got here to be often known as the Manchurian plague, and it killed an estimated 60,000 folks.

Wu chaired a global convention on the plague that 12 months, serving to disseminate data about how to reply to outbreaks. The epidemic helped to persuade China’s leaders of the necessity for a contemporary public well being service, and Wu assist set up it in quite a few roles earlier than returning to Malaysia in 1937.


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