WHAT caused the influenza pandemic of 1918 and early 1919 in which 20 million to 40 million people died worldwide and why did so many die in the islands of Spitsbergen, situated in the high Artic between mainland Norway and Greenland? The answer to these questions may lie in the five-year project led by Kirsty Duncan. Duncan was led to islands of Spitsbergen when she began work on the flu victims' bodies which may have been preserved in ice.
Duncan found names of seven men who had arrived in the islands to earn money during the winter jobs. It is believed they contracted flu while sailing on the boat and died in the first week of October 1918. Duncan and his team, after obtaining permission to exhume the bodies from the authorities and the families of the victims, plans to remove and study samples of tissues from the victims lungs, intestines and other organs. According to Tom Bergan, a virologist at the University of Oslo, the research might lead to development of a vaccine.
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