The A to Z Challenge – Y for Yellow Fever

yI’m participating in the A to Z Challenge for the entire month of April, by posting an interesting topic for each letter of the alphabet. This excludes Sneak Peek Sundays. Follow this link to nearly 2000 other bloggers and authors.
The A to Z Challenge – participating blogs

Today’s Calliope’s Writing Tablet post is brought to you by the letter Y for Yellow Fever.

The late 1700’s saw the French Revolution underway. At that time, Philadelphia was the largest city in the United States with more than 50,000 residents. Those fleeing the French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue (known as Haiti today) landed on the Philadelphia docks. These French expatriates  didn’t come empty-handed. They brought a plague of Yellow Fever with them.

Transmitted by the bite of a female Aedes aegypti mosquito, Yellow Fever is an acute infectious viral disease seen in tropical and subtropical regions of South America and Africa. Like the deadly Lassa Fever, Dengue Fever, and Ebola, Yellow Fever is also a hemorrhagic (bleeding) disease. It began with aches and pains, and fever followed with nausea and dizziness. Symptoms initially lasted several days before tapering off.  When the symptoms returned, they did so with a vengeance. As the disease spread to the liver, this phase brought the name-inspiring jaundice that yellowed the eyes and skin. Delirium followed as did internal hemorrhaging (bleeding from the ears and nose, and black vomit).  In the terminal phase, the organs and circulatory system failed and death generally followed 7-10 days after the relapse.

Philadelphia was stifling hot that summer of 1793. By August, water levels had gone low and pools went stagnant to create a perfect breeding ground for disease-spreading mosquitoes. By the end of the summer, one-tenth of the population of Philadelphia had died and a cloud of stench and death hung over the city. What began with ten victims a day in August turned to one hundred a day by October. People left in droves and Philadelphia became an abandoned city. It’s estimated that less than 8,000 remained.

There was a vague idea the scourge was coming from the stagnant water and raw sewage, but it was the foul air that was thought to be the problem. A new outlook came out of the epidemic such as better sanitation practices on the docks where rotting foods and foul water sat beside the general sewage. Pennsylvania established a new Philadelphia Board of Health in 1795 to enforce both quarantine and sanitary regulations. Yellow Fever returned to Philadelphia each summer for five years then eventually tapered off.  The connection between mosquitoes and disease wouldn’t come until much later.

Side note: Well-respected, yet undeniable quack, Dr. Benjamin Rush, used every bit of medical nonsense he could come up with to fight the disease. I’d read his favorite treatment was  aggressive blood-letting — as much as a 5th of a person’s blood volume drained away to rid the body of ill humors.

There is an entire series on this topic. Without devoting too much time to put them in numerical order, here’s the expanded search page.  On the whole, the owner of these videos has a vault of very interesting movie shorts.

Tomorrow, the end — the letter Z!

I’ve had so much fun discussing my historical posts in the A to Z Challenge. To keep conversations going, I’ve just launched a new blog — a Salon Blog called Another Stone Unturned Pressed for time now that my edits are in progress, I’ve put my Gobekli Tepe post there to reanimate the discussion. Let’s talk about it. What have you found on the web? What stone might still be unturned for interested learners? What can you share? I’d love to see! Read the details and let’s start the ball rolling.

Rose Anderson ~ Love Waits in Unexpected Places

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About ~RoseAnderson

Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes under the pen name Madeline Archer.
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2 Responses to The A to Z Challenge – Y for Yellow Fever

  1. Yellow fever was considered a disease of the tropics, and it entered the lives of American families primarily as a scourge claiming the lives of sons and brothers who voyaged to the West Indies, at that time America’s principal partners in trade. In the tropical context, where deadly varieties of malaria were far more common, yellow fever was not of especial concern. One exposure to yellow fever conferred lifetime immunity (a fact not understood at the time) so among the natives and creoles on the islands there was a large pool of immune people. In addition, slaves brought from West Africa likely had exposure to the fever there. In general, children survived the disease better than adults. So in areas where yellow fever could be said to be endemic, many people could not get the disease.

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