I’ve been reading about the yellow fever outbreak in Angola and Democratic Republic of Congo and thinking about how deadly the disease used to be in the U.S. Fortunately, there is a vaccine now, although it is in short supply. A century and a half ago, people didn’t even understand how the disease spread.
Deadly yellow fever outbreaks struck the U.S. beginning in the 1700s. In the 19th century, it was deemed one of the most dangerous infectious diseases.
In 1873, Shreveport, Louisiana, lost almost one-quarter of its population to yellow fever. A local newspaper printed a “List of the Dead” that numbered almost 800.
The worst outbreak was in 1878 in the Mississippi River Valley. About 20,000 people died—a staggering number, especially at the time. Memphis, Tennessee, was particularly hard hit. It was the fifth of six major yellow fever epidemics in the city.