Disease

The public health crisis that emerged in America’s early history can, in part, be traced to precipitating conditions in England. The practice of “enclosure,” essentially land ownership, caused about half the rural peasantry of England to lose their lands between 1530 and 1630. The newly displaced population flocked to the cities in hopes of relief. London grew from 120,000 in 1550 to 200,000 by 1600, and that population was nearly doubled by 1650. The result was a dramatic increase in urban crime, poverty and disease. Lack of fresh water and necessary sewage techniques made cities hotbeds of virulence. Parliament responded to the growing concern by criminalizing poverty. Vagrants were whipped, thieves were hanged, and debtors were jailed, but these measures only increased the anxiety of the population and did nothing to manage the health crisis. Diseases from Europe A partial solution was to send these poor to the colonies to work. Conditions in England made this as attractive to the homeless poor as it was to the wealthy; promises of milk and honey in the New World were readily accepted by all. The long journey to America on cramped ships with little attention to sanitation made an excellent host for the growth of disease. In fact, the arrival of ships would be one of the colonists’ first clearly identifiable sources of disease. Ships from Europe bringing soldiers from Germany and emigrants from Germany and other parts of Europe, as well as ships from Africa bringing slaves, were virtual incubators of disease. Smallpox, yellow fever, dysentery, and measles were just a few of those associated with the arrival of these ships. The cramped quarters forced individuals to spend the long journeys literally trapped in their own waste. Drinking water was “black, thick with dirt, and full of worms,” according to one German emigrant, and lice and spiders were everywhere. The dead were thrown overboard, but many went unnoticed for long periods in the stinking, dark, confined holds of the ships. Yellow fever, also known as “stranger’s disease,” is thought to have originated in Africa, where it is endemic, and brought via the West Indies, where the first slave ship, a property of the Dutch West India Company, collected its unfortunate cargo and delivered them to America in 1626. The most feared of the recurring ship-borne epidemics was smallpox. It was a highly contagious virus characterized by fever, intense headache, and eruptions of dark, red pustules all over the body. Because of its easily identifiable characteristics, excellent documentation is available in historical records. When first introduced to the population, the death toll would often reach upwards of 30 to 50 percent of those infected. In the 1720s variolation was introduced to combat the deadly disease. In this early form of inoculation, healthy persons were infected by inserting the pus from a sick person into a small incision. The best results gave the healthy person a lesser form of the illness and left him or her with immunity to it, although early experiments were also known to trigger outbreaks. Overall, however, variolation was considered a great success, and was responsible for shrinking the death toll from 10 to 50 percent to 1 to 5 percent. Reverend Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin were ardent supporters of variolation. The mystery of Kawasaki disease Ars Technica Mapq8Ocean Pollution and Diseases from Aquaculture or Fish Farming from … Mapq8

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