When it comes to mosquito-borne disease threats, modern Americans have lived through outbreaks of the Zika virus and the west Nile virus. Other well known mosquito-borne diseases, like malaria and dengue fever, still cause millions of deaths every year. However, a vast majority of the deaths that result from mosquito-borne disease infections occur within impoverished regions of the world where medical resources are limited or lacking. Considering the current situation concerning vector-borne disease fatalities in the world, it may surprise some people to learn that disease-carrying mosquitoes have killed thousands of Americans. While numerous mosquito-borne disease epidemics have claimed thousands, or possibly millions of American lives since the early days of Colonialism in North America, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 is one of the most significant in terms of its disastrous consequences.
The yellow fever virus is, of course, spread and transmitted to humans and numerous animals by mosquitoes. During the year of 1690, the first well-documented yellow fever epidemic occurred in early America, but it was the outbreak that occurred in the nation’s former Capital in 1793 that resulted in a particularly high amount of fatalities. During the late summer of that year, the former Capital of the United States, Philadelphia, received thousands of refugees who had been escaping a yellow fever outbreak in their native Caribbean territory. Unfortunately, within a few weeks, many native Philadelphians contracted the virus, and by October, 100 people were dying from the virus daily. The victims of the virus were so numerous that the local government in Philadelphia ultimately collapsed due to the epidemic’s strain on public services and the economy. The Federal Government, also in Philadelphia at the time, responded to the crisis by simply evacuating the city, but this did little to nothing to control the virus’ spread. Luckily, a cold front eliminated the diseased mosquitoes from the city, which resulted in only 20 deaths per day over much of the fall season. By the time the crisis ended, 5,000 people died from the virus in and around Philadelphia. Today, a vaccine prevents people from falling ill to yellow fever. Despite the wide availability of this vaccine, 20,000 people continue to die from yellow fever every year around the world.
Do you take measures to prevent mosquito bites while visiting regions where mosquito-borne disease is relatively common?