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Yellow Fever and Fame

Infectious Diseases continually shape human history, often through their impact on leaders in Science, Politics, War, Religion, Industry and Art. The death of a King, President or Pope from plague or malaria can affect us all, and serves as a useful paradigm in the appreciation of these conditions. For many, yellow fever (YF) remains a “rare tropical disease” which (as in the current Angolan outbreak) periodically erupts in the developing world. Few realize that major YF outbreaks were recorded in the United States, Spain, Italy and even England into the early twentieth century. A chronology of outbreaks beyond The Tropics appears below.

A list of notables who died of YF includes Benjamin Latrobe, the architect who designed the United States Capitol Building, and Henry Lehman, the financier who founded Lehman Brothers. Both contracted the disease in New Orleans, respectively in 1820 and 1855. Heads of State who died of YF included Haitian President Alexandre Petion (died 1818) and Thomas Dundas, Governor of Guadeloupe (died 1794). Non-fatal attacks appear in the biographies of American President Zachary Taylor, Texas President Anson Jones and Chilean Supreme Director, Bernardo O’Higgins.

Other victims of YF included Cyrus McCormick, Thomas Nast, Donald Meek, John James Audubon and Alexander Selkirk. McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper, acquired the infection in Virginia at the age of 5. Nast, a legendary political cartoonist, was stricken in Ecuador in 1902; and Meek an iconic character actor, was rendered permanently bald after surviving Yellow fever during the Spanish American War. Audubon survived an attack of YF in 1803, after emigrating to Philadelphia from Haiti. That year, outbreaks of the disease were reported in both. Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish castaway who served as inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, died of YF during Navy service in West Africa (1721).   Indeed, military activity often exposes famous people to “exotic” diseases. Thus, British war hero Horatio Nelson suffered a nonfatal attack of YF in Cuba in 1780; and Samuel Nicholas, first Commander of the United States Marines, died during an outbreak in Philadelphia in 1790. A number of former Civil War Generals succumbed to the disease, including Charles Griffin (1867), Cyrus Hamlin (1867), John Bell Hood (1879) and Edward Ord (1883).

To date, over 500 health-care workers have died during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa; and it is no surprise that several notable victims of Yellow fever have been scientists working with the disease itself. Physicians John Conrad Otto, Philip Syng Physick and Benjamin Rush all survived attacks of YF while working in Philadelphia. Medical personnel who died of YF included doctors Jesse Willam Lazear (1900) and James Carroll (1907), and nurse Clara Maass (1901), who succumbed after purposely exposing themselves to the bites of infected mosquitoes in Cuba. Other physicians who died of YF (country – year of death) included Francois Carlo Antommarchi (Cuba – 1838), personal physician to Napoleon Bonaparte; Richard Bayley (New York -1801), the first Chief Health Officer of New York City; and Paul A. Lewis (Brazil – 1929). In 1928, Hideo Noguchi and William Alexander Young both died of Yellow fever while studying the disease in Ghana.

Notable victims of Yellow fever have also included three painters, a chess master, four authors / journalists, and two co-conspirators in the Lincoln assassination. A full listing and additional background data are available on a free website which I maintain at www.VIPatients.com   The site is interactive. Users can explore the medical history of over 22,000 “VIP’s” (and 130 famous animals) ; or generate lists based on disease, profession and year of death. Although specific diagnoses are derived primarily from biographies, which are often speculative or biased, entries are regularly updated as additional information becomes available. The author will value feedback and suggestions.

A Chronology of Yellow Fever Outbreaks Beyond The Tropics [1,2]

1730 – An outbreak (2,200 fatal cases) was reported in Cadiz, Spain (with subsequent outbreaks in 1731, 1736, 1764, 1800, 1802, 1805, 1810, 1813, 1819 and 1821.) 
1793 – An outbreak (4,044 fatal cases) of yellow fever was reported in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1794 – An outbreak (360 fatal cases) was reported in Baltimore, Maryland.
1796 – An outbreak was reported in New Orleans, Louisiana.
1798 – Outbreaks were reported in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (3,506 fatal cases) , New Haven, Connecticut and New York City.
1800 – An outbreak (1,197 fatal cases) was reported in Baltimore, Maryland.
1800 – An outbreak (60,000 fatal cases) was reported in Spain.
1802 – An outbreak was reported in Brest, France.
1803 – Outbreaks (606 fatal cases) were reported in New York City and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1804 – An outbreak (2,000 cases, 650 fatal) of yellow fever was reported in Livorno, Italy.
1804 – Outbreaks were reported in Gibraltar and Alicante, Spain.1808 – An outbreak was reported in Georgia (U.S.).
1819 – An outbreak was reported in Cadiz, Spain.
1820 – An outbreak was reported in Savannah, Georgia.
1821 – An outbreak (20,000 fatal cases = one-sixth of the population) was reported in Barcelona following introduction by a ship from Cuba.
1823 – An outbreak was reported in Lisbon, Portugal.
1828 – An outbreak (5,383 cases, 1,183 fatal) was reported in Gibraltar.
1857 – An outbreak was reported in Oporto and Lisbon, Portugal.
1870 – An outbreak (1,235 fatal cases) in Barcelona was related to a ship arriving from Cuba.
1838 to 1839 – An outbreak was reported in Charleston, South Carolina.
1839 – An outbreak (250 fatal cases – 5% of the population) was reported in Galveston, Texas.
1852 – An outbreak was reported in Charleston, South Carolina.
1852 – An outbreak was reported in Southampton, England.
1855 – An outbreak was reported in Virginia.
1861 – An outbreak (40 cases, 26 fatal) was reported in Saint-Nazaire, France.
1862 – An outbreak was reported in Wilmington, North Carolina.
1863 – An outbreak was reported in Shreveport, Louisiana.
1865 – Outbreaks (27 cases, 17 fatal) were reported in Wales, and in Swansea, England (imported from Cuba).
1867 – An outbreak (1,150 fatal cases) of yellow fever was reported in Galveston, Texas.
1873 – An outbreak was reported in Shreveport, Louisiana.
1873 to 1875 – An outbreak was reported in Pensacola, Florida.
1876 – An outbreak was reported in Savannah, Georgia.
1877 – An outbreak was reported in Port Royal, South Carolina.
1878 to 1879 – Outbreaks of yellow fever were reported in Mississippi , Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana (4,046 fatal cases).
1882 – An outbreak was reported in Pensacola, Florida.
1887 to 1888 – An outbreak was reported in Florida.
1888 – An outbreak of yellow fever was reported in Mississippi
1905 – Outbreaks were reported in New Orleans, Louisiana (8,399 cases) and Pensacola Florida.
1909 – An outbreak was reported on a ship arriving to Saint Nazaire, France from Martinique – with no secondary spread to the port.

References

  1. Berger SA. Yellow Fever: Global Status, 2016. 152 pates, 124 graphs, 983 references. Gideon e-books, https://www.gideononline.com/ebooks/disease/yellow-fever-global-status/
  2. Berger A. Infectious Diseases of the United States, 2016. 1,305 pages, 489 graphs, 15,433 references. Gideon e-books, https://www.gideononline.com/ebooks/country/infectious-diseases-of-the-united-states/

Update: Posted in ProMED

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