Yellow Fever: One of Five Infamous Epidemics We Hope We Never See
BUGS BITE: YELLOW FEVER
"¢ Yellow fever is not as well known as many epidemics, but it struck Philadelphia with incredible ferocity in 1793. At the time, Philadelphia was the nation's capitol. The epidemic was so severe that the national government disbanded and fled. Alexander Hamilton, the Treasure Secretary, contracted the fever — although Washington accused him of faking — and also fled. (When he arrived in Albany, New York, he was shunned because of his fever cooties.)
"¢ People of African descent were thought to be immune to yellow fever, and so they played a key role in caring for the sick in Philadelphia. Yet after the epidemic subsided, blacks were accused of trying to profit from the crisis and even of causing the outbreak! All told, 5,000 Philadelphians died, about 10% of the population, and almost 400,000 more nationwide by 1865.
"¢ Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of Philadelphia's bad luck with epidemics. The city was ravaged by the Spanish flu and, in 1976, Philadelphia's Bellevue Stratford Hotel (right) gave us a new epidemic: Legionnaires' disease.
"¢ In the early twentieth century, scientists discovered that a mosquito spread the virus that caused yellow fever. The U.S. Army used a pesticide called DDT to curb yellow fever epidemics throughout the Western hemisphere. Rachel Carson later exposed DDT as a leading cause of bird death in her expose Silent Spring.