Yellow Fever

Ebola has been in the news a lot lately.  We even had a traveler here come down with Malaria, he caught it in Africa.  One of our local news stations was nice enough to bring up a Yellow Fever outbreak from 1853.  So, I did a little research.  I love research.  I think I missed my calling as an archivist or librarian.

Yellow Fever- (virus) caused by Aedes aegypti mosquito.


photo by Charles Rondeau

(I hate mosquitoes.  I know all creatures have a purpose but I have yet to find the  purpose of a mosquito.)

A little history: (Mobile, Alabama)

  • First case, 1704 brought by a ship from Santo Domingo to Ft. Louise de la Mobile (isn’t that a pretty name.)  Every outbreak points to the origin of the virus, it’s always somewhere else, never Mobile.  I found that funny.
  • all outbreaks had a high mortality rate due to a lack of preventative measures or quarantine
  • no records were kept on early outbreaks  and reports were usually inaccurate, to keep the public in the dark
  • Most years had some cases of yellow fever
  • 1837- 350 deaths
  • 1839- 450 deaths
  • 1843- 750 deaths out of 1350 cases

1853 Outbreak

  • 1853- 1,191 deaths  this was the most widespread outbreak of Yellow Fever
  • 8,000 people, out of 25,000 population, fled the city
  • claimed up to 50 people a day
  • lasted from July 11- Dec 16 ( strange coincidence that’s similar to hurricane season)

There’s a local cemetery were you can see family plots with multiple deaths from Yellow Fever.  Sad.  I can’t imagine what it would have like to be in the city, not knowing how the Fever spreads. There may be a story there later. Which brings me to :

William C. Gorgas (1854-1920)

  • Army physician
  • started looking at sanitation during the building of the Panama Canal
  • started sanitary projects including:
  • draining ponds/swamps
  • fumigation
  • mosquito netting (it’s not just pretty)
  • public water systems

Thankfully, we now have public spraying to stop mosquitoes.  I know that kills off lighting bugs, and we may not have to worry about Yellow Fever, but we do have West Nile Virus.  I’ll take the spraying.

For those interested in the medical issues of Yellow Fever:

-Incubation period of 3-6 days, no symptoms during this time.  There are 2 possible phases.

Acute Phase

  • fever
  • headache
  • muscle aches, basically you have your basic flu symptoms. Why does everything start out like the flu?
  • sensitivity to light
  • red eyes, face, or tongue

Symptoms improve and may even disappear in days.

Toxic Phase

Some people will get worse and fall into this phase.  This is where things really go wrong and death may occur.

  • jaundice (hence the name Yellow Fever)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bleeding from your nose, mouth, and eyes  (I didn’t know that!)
  • Liver/kidney failure
  • brain dysfunction

Here’s the kicker- their is no cure and no real treatment other than treating the symptoms.  It’s not all bad.  There is a vaccine!


There you go… enough information about Yellow Fever to make you dangerous and paranoid.  My job here is done.






One thought on “Yellow Fever

  1. Pingback: Row80 Sunday Check-in | C.K.Rich

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