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The Great Fever
Timeline of Yellow Fever in America

1495 - 1889 | 1898 - 2003  


Christopher Columbus Christopher Columbus and his troops fight the battle of Vega Real in Hispaniola. Many combatants contract a disease that remains unknown.


An illness called the coup de barre (roughly translated as "temporary but extreme fatigue") strikes the Caribbean island Guadeloupe.


An outbreak -- possibly yellow fever -- hits Bridgetown, Barbados, killing scores of people.


The first presumed case of yellow fever is recorded in the Yucatan. Accounts of symptoms and how the disease spread are similar to those of later confirmed outbreaks.


Map showing Mexico, southeastern United States, and Cuba Between May and October, a third of the residents of Havana, Cuba, die from a disease believed to be yellow fever.


A British squadron seizes St. Lucia. Most of the 1,500 troops assigned to the island succumb to yellow fever. Other European colonists of the Caribbean also fall victim to the disease.


Boston becomes the first British colony in North America to face an epidemic of yellow fever. Charleston and Philadelphia soon experience the disease.


New York City loses ten percent of its population to yellow fever.


This summer begins seven consecutive years of yellow fever epidemics in eastern seaports. After 1743, the disease will not return to the region until 1762.


Yellow fever kills an estimated 5,000 people in Philadelphia. Thousands more city residents will die in subsequent outbreaks over the next decade.


Yellow fever is apparently eradicated north of the Mason-Dixon line. Historians credit this breakthrough to improved sanitary conditions. The disease continues, however, to ravage the South.


December 3: Carlos Juan Finlay is born in Cuba.


Walter Reed September 13: Walter Reed is born in Gloucester County, Virginia.


New Orleans, the U.S. city in which yellow fever was most prevalent, suffers its worse exposure to date, with 8,100 official deaths.


After two seamen die of yellow fever during the voyage, the steamship Ben Franklin arrives outside Norfolk, Virginia. The port doctor, unaware of the deaths, allows the ship to dock for repairs. Ten thousand residents fall ill from the disease; two thousand die.


During the Civil War, the Union establishes blockades of southern ports, which reduces trade with the Caribbean and South America. Possibly as a result, yellow fever kills only 436 of the 233,786 Union soldiers who die of disease during the conflict.


Large-scale instances of yellow fever return to New Orleans, costing 3,000 lives.


George Sternberg July: Army physician George Sternberg, who is later instrumental in establishing the Army's Yellow Fever Board in Cuba, publishes his first medical paper, "An Inquiry into the Modus Operandi of the Yellow Fever Poison," in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal.


After an earlier outbreak in New Orleans, more than half of Memphis' 47,000 residents flee when yellow fever reaches their city.

President Rutherford B. Hayes April 29: President Rutherford B. Hayes signs the Quarantine Act of 1878 into law. It gives the Marine Hospital Service responsibility for stopping disease from entering the country through shipping.

December 18: The Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on Epidemic Disease establishes the Board of Experts Authorized by Congress to Investigate the Yellow Fever Epidemic. Six weeks later, the board recommends a quarantine system to prevent yellow fever from entering the country.


March 3: Responding to calls for a federal public health agency, Congress establishes the National Board of Health.


Carlos Finlay August 14: At Havana's Academy of Sciences, Carlos Finlay reads his paper, "The Mosquito Hypothetically Considered as the Transmitting Agent of Yellow Fever." His presentation was met with silence, a precursor to the doubts his theory faced for the next two decades.


In Havana, 7,000 people die from yellow fever.

1495 - 1889 | 1898 - 2003  

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The Great Fever American Experience

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