Influenza in the Colonial Americas

The Age of Exploration was a period in history starting in the late 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century, during which Europeans and their descendants intensively explored and mapped the world. The Columbian Exchange was the exchange of prodcuts between the New World (North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America) and the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) after the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Food products, diseases, ideas, populations (people and animals) and cultures were all elements of the Columbian Exchange.

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A sneeze was all it took. When the first European explorers sneezed on the natives, flu epidemics began. The highly contagious influenza strains, which the Europeans had developed immunity to, were accidentally brought to the Americas and the natives found them deadly. Because there was no way to sterilize clothing or dishes, the flu continued to rage in the Americas.

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Symptoms of Influenza include: headache, chills, fever, joint pain, nausea, congested mucous membranes in the throat and nose, persistent cough, tiredness, diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults.) Influenza is caused by three strains of viruses- influenza A, B, and C. In most cases, droplets through the coughing and sneezing of infected persons transmit the flu, but it can also be transmitted by direct contact. Influenza affects the respiratory system and its incubation period is from one to three days, but could be as long as seven. The mortality rate is 0.1% of people who are infected with the virus. Typically there is little that is done to treat the flu. Bed rest, drinking fluids, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can relieve some symptoms. One should call a health professional after three days of fever over 102 degrees F, if cough brings up mucous, or if there is difficulty breathing.


European annihilation of Natives started with Christopher Columbus' arrival in San Salvador in 1492. Native population dropped dramatically over the next few decades. Europeans directly murdered some whereas others died indirectly as a result of contact with introduced diseases for which they had no resistance -- mainly smallpox, influenza, and measles. fdsgsfg.jpg


When Christopher Columbus and his men set sail on the second Colombian expedition to the New World in 1493, the crew suffered from fever, respiratory symptoms and malaise. It is generally accepted that the disease was influenza. Pigs, horses and hens acquired in Gomera (Canary Islands) traveled on the same ship. The pigs may have been the origin of the flu and the intermediary hosts for genetic recombination of other viral subtypes. Birds are likely to have played an important role in the epidemiology of the flu taking place on the second Colombian trip, which caused a deadly demographic catastrophe, with an estimated mortality of 90-95% among the natives.

Within decades of Columbus's voyages, the Trans Atlantic slave trade had begun and hundreds of thousands of Native Americans died of diseases brought to America by Europeans and Africans.


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Created By Fiona O'Leary




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Turabian formatting by BibMe.org.