Yellow Fever - History of Medicine
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

Yellow fever

Kids with yellow fever
Kids with yellow fever in Mississippi about 1870.
See how all the people are white?
The hospital wasn't letting black kids in,
or hiring black women as nurses.

September 2016 - The virus that causes yellow fever probably evolved from an earlier virus that didn't make people sick. The first cases of yellow fever may have been in East or Central Africa, but people in West Africa were catching yellow fever by 1600 AD. When people from West Africa were forced to travel to North and South America in the 1600s to work as slaves, apparently some of them had yellow fever, so the virus came with them.

You caught yellow fever when a mosquito bit an infected person and then bit you. If you caught yellow fever, you got a sudden fever and headache. Most people slowly got better, but about a third of the people who caught yellow fever got bad cases. If you got a bad case of yellow fever, you became extremely tired and began bleeding into the skin. You got a slow heartbeat, back pains, and vomiting. Then your liver stopped working, and your skin turned yellow with poisons that your liver couldn't filter out (That's why it's called yellow fever). About half the people who got bad cases, or one out of every seven people who caught yellow fever, died.


Better safe than sorry! Get a mosquito net

When mosquitoes bit these African people, they spread yellow fever to other people. In 1648, yellow fever killed a lot of people in the Maya country. In 1685, it killed a lot of people in Brazil. In 1793, an epidemic of yellow fever killed a lot of European colonists in Philadelphia. By 1822, after a serious epidemic in New York City, northern port cities began to quarantine ships as they came into port to stop yellow fever, and there were no more epidemics in the north. But many people continued to die of yellow fever in the American South and in the Caribbean islands and Brazil, where there were a lot of mosquitoes to spread the disease.

In 1881, Carlos Finlay, a Cuban doctor, suggested that mosquitoes might be spreading yellow fever, and when Walter Reed's experiments showed he was right, people began to work hard to get rid of the mosquitoes. This effort stopped most of the yellow fever epidemics. In 1937, Max Theiler, who was originally from South Africa but was working in New York, invented a vaccination against yellow fever. Because of the vaccination, and programs to control mosquitoes, not very many people catch yellow fever anymore, though there's still no cure for yellow fever if you do get it.

Learn by doing: get appropriate vaccinations for where you live!
Read about malaria

Bibliography and further reading about yellow fever:

Mosquitoes
Dengue Fever
Malaria
Smallpox
Bubonic plague (with pictures)
Measles
History of Medicine
Quatr.us home


LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Quatr.us Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 30 March, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT