Disease

Small Pox: (Old World)

Small pox was a common childhood disease in the densely populated regions of Europe in the Middle Ages, but it was not a common killer. Plus, all survivors had a lifelong immunity to small pox because of their childhood bout with the disease. Historians believe that the small pox virus first arrived in the New World around Christmas, 1518.

It traveled quickly. One man, it was said, was to be the cause of the Mexican small pox epidemic that killed most of the Aztecs. Also, the native population’s lack of immunity to the disease caused it to run rampant throughout the Americas; one-third to one-half of the entire native population died of small pox. With so many dying of the disease, the Spanish were more easily able to conquer the natives. Small pox continued to be a major killer of native populations up into the western expansion of the United States.

Influenza: (Old World)

A sneeze. That’s all it took. When the first European explorers sneezed on the natives, flu epidemics began, just like that. The highly contagious influenza strains, which the Europeans had developed immunity to, were accidentally brought to the Americas and the natives found them deadly. Without a way to sterilize clothing or dishes, the flu continued to rage in the Americas.

Other Diseases: (Old World)

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“Manieres des Indians sur la Saigne & Guerison des Fieures,” NaaukeurigeVersameling der Gedenk-Waardigste Reysen Naar Oost en West-Indien, Mit Sgarders Andere Gewesten Gedaan; Zedert Het Jaar, 1492 Tot 1499, 1706, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, E111.H54 rare.

Early soldiers and sailors introduced bubonic plague, typhus, chicken pox, cholera, cowpox, measles, and many other diseases to the Americas. Yellow fever and malaria also traveled, originating in Africa and finding their way to Europeans and Native Americans by way of mosquitoes. The tropical rain forest of the Americas became perfect breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that transmitted sickness from infected individuals to healthy ones. These previously unknown diseases ran like wildfire in the Americas and, in fact, are still a threat to isolated native populations.

Diseases Native to America:

Historians believe that tuberculosis, dysentery, and parasitic diseases were common in the Americas. Research on early skeletal remains has also given scientists intriguing clues to early diseases and treatments. Not too long ago, in 1975, a pre-Columbian mummified child from Peru was examined, and the skeleton, as well as the preserved soft tissue, showed signs of tuberculosis with remnants of tuberculosis bacilli still in the tissue. This was proof-positive of the New World’s problems with tuberculosis before the Europeans arrived.