Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The American Plague by Molly Crosby

The American Plague by Molly Crosby 

What an interesting book! I learned so much from this well written book!

Yellow fever meant little to me--just a tropical disease that one never hears of these days. But what a story that is behind the fact that we seldom hear of yellow fever today!  

The book begins with how Yellow fever was brought into the Americas from Africa by the slave trade. The Africans had some immunity to the disease having lived where it is endemic for centuries but when it hit the Americas, the natives and the whites were virtually defenseless against it. 

Yellow fever is a particularly horrible disease and the book gives graphic accounts of the course of the disease. Not a pleasant way to die.  

Yellow fever epidemics periodically devastated the  United States east of the Mississippi. This book details the 1878 epidemic specifically the city of Memphis, Tennessee although the epidemic actually stretched from Brazil to Ohio. Over 5,000 citizens of Memphis (almost 1/3 of the population remaining in the city) died that year. 

The second half of the book is about the search for the cause and mode of transmission of the disease. It is about the unsung heroes of that search. While most of us have heard of Dr. Walter Reed because of the hospital in Washington, few of us have heard of Drs. Jesse Lazear, James Carroll, Aristedes Agramonte, and many others who searched for and finally found the cause and mode of transmission of the yellow fever virus and finally to a vaccine. 

We think of yellow fever as a disease of the past, but it is not conquered. It is still to be found in the jungles of Africa and South America.  We still have the mosquitoes and to transmit it. All it would take to set off an epidemic today would be a single person returning to the U.S. having been bitten by an infected mosquito while abroad and transmitting that virus to a mosquito here. 

Excellent book. 


Hattie said...

We forget those scourges of the past, but, as you say, they are still lurking in out of the way places and could come back. I hope the current anti-vaccination fad will run its course, because too many people are unwisely forgoing vaccinations for themselves and their children.


This book sounds intriguing. My ignorance on this disease is huge. Perhaps in the future I will get the opportunity to read it. I'll put it on my books to read list. thanks -- barbara

Florence said...

I, too, knew virtually nothing about it either but the book is so well done that it just caught me up in it. Hope you get a chance to read it too.