Volume 95, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0002-9637
  • E-ISSN: 1476-1645



Infectious diseases depopulated many isolated Pacific islands when they were first exposed to global pathogen circulation from the 18th century. Although the mortality was great, the lack of medical observers makes determination of what happened during these historical epidemics largely speculative. Bacillary dysentery caused by is the most likely infection causing some of the most lethal island epidemics. The fragmentary historical record is reviewed to gain insight into the possible causes of the extreme lethality that was observed during first-contact epidemics in the Pacific. Immune aspects of the early dysentery epidemics and postmeasles infection resulting in subacute inflammatory enteric disease suggest that epidemiologic isolation was the major lethality risk factor on Pacific islands in the 19th century. Other possible risk factors include human leukocyte antigen homogeneity from a founder effect and pathogen-induced derangement of immune tolerance to gut flora. If this analysis is correct, then Pacific islands are currently at no greater risk of emerging disease epidemics than other developing countries despite their dark history.


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  • Received : 03 Mar 2016
  • Accepted : 30 Mar 2016

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