In October of 1347, a ship docked at Messina in Sicily with all sailors aboard either dead or dying from plague. They came from Caffa, or Kaffa, located in Crimea. It is believed Caffa received the pestilence from Mongol trebuchets during a siege of the city. From here on out, Europe was to have outbreaks year after year, eventually losing up to a third of it’s population by some estimates.
I’ve recently come across the interesting ways in which infectious disease has played a part in the way geographic regions and peoples change in their language customs. In the 14th century, during one of the multiple outbreaks of the Black Death, so many french tutors died that children in Britain began to be educated in their native language, thus helping its spread.
Translation: You’re S.O.L. kids, Girard is out, Cobb is in.
source: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Tuchman
Cholera probably originated in South Asia and made a home in the Ganges and the Yangtze Rivers. In Bengal, there’s actually a goddess of cholera. It didn’t make it into the west until 1817, most likely through armies first and then pilgrims filled in the gaps.
The first couple great pandemics were spread by British armies traveling between India, Persia and England and killed hundreds of thousands. Soldiers reportedly died as they marched, having only caught the disease that morning.
Cholera was brought to America in 1831. It went from Canada to New York State with the first documented case cited in June 26, 1832. American business being what is has always been, proved to be a vocal opposition to closing down public places because of the effect it would have on commerce. This tactic had been used to good effect elsewhere.
It was an Italian scientist, Filippo Pacini, that discovered the bug first sometime between 1854-63. Robert Koch rediscovered it in 1883 and got credit for it for decades. Not until the 1960’s was Pacini honored as the first to make the discovery when the bacteria that causes the disease was officially named Vibrio cholera Pacini.
Cholera victims present with profuse diarrhea which has a characteristic “rice water” appearance. This quickly leads to dehydration. If not properly supported, the victim then experiences a drop in blood pressure as the body’s fluid levels decrease. This can cause collapse and renal failure as the kidneys fail to receive adequate perfusion.
Cholera is spread via contaminated water so it tends to not be a danger in developed nations. There are currently two cholera vaccines though neither are available in the U.S.. Sanitation and water treatment facilities are by far, the best way to prevent cholera outbreaks. In areas of the world where large numbers of people are living together without these things, outbreaks still occur. Last year, Yemen experienced an outbreak and currently, Kenya is experiencing one in the Daadab complex, which houses around 350,000 displaced people.
source: Plagues & Poxes: the Impact of Human History on epidemic disease
It was only within the last century that syphilis moved from dreaded life-long companion to minor nuisance and the villain in lifetime movies.
The first great outbreak in Europe happened during the 15th century. Charles VIII of France besieged the kingdom of Naples, claiming it was rightfully his through his Angevin line. It’s unknown whether the disease showed up within the walled city first or the attacking army and for that reason each side blamed the other for their sudden misfortune. The French believed the city had released its prostitutes for the explicit reason of weakening their number and the city believed the French had brought it with them.
Whoever was responsible, Charles’ army was so weakened by the outbreak, he blamed the “Neapolitan disease” for their failure.
Naturally, as troops returned home, the disease came with them and spread all across Europe. It later took on other names like “the Portuguese sore,”The Spanish disease” and “La Grosse Verole,” or the Great Pox.
Great Pox, it was, as it affected even heads of state. Peter the Great was among them along with Henry VIII, Louis XIV of France and Ivan the Terrible.
Most surprisingly, before the stuffy Victorians came and ruined everything, syphilis was known in the 16th century as the “gallant disease.”
source: Plagues and Poxes: The Impact of Human History of Epidemic Disease by Alfred Jay Bollet
Turns out the fur trade, now industry, sucks for more reasons than I thought. One of the ways the Black Death was spread in the 14th century was by fur trappers and hunters. Marmots were trapped for their fur in Central Asia and taken West along the trade routes. Around this time, many were found already dead, likely from plague, skinned and shipped off to Western Russia and Europe.
On a side note, marmots are super cute critters. I got to see some on a trip to the Olympic Peninsula.
from Plagues & Poxes: The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease by Alfred Jay Bollet
U.S. Smallpox Epidemic of 1901-1903
There were a series of outbreaks in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and in Ohio and New Jersey. It was introduced into New York in 1900 and by 1901, there were over 900 reported cases in Manhattan while Brooklyn had over 1,500 with over 200 deaths.
By 1902, the city opened five vaccination centers and vaccinated tens of thousands a day. Over a six month period, over 800,000 people had been vaccinated which greatly helped control the spread.
In the three years of the epidemic, there were 21,000 cases of smallpox and over 3,500 deaths.
from Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: from Ancient Times to the Present.