Major American Epidemics of Yellow Fever (1793-1905)
Yellow fever appeared in the U.S. in the late 17th century. The deadly virus continued to strike cities, mostly eastern seaports and Gulf Coast cities, for the next two hundred years, killing hundreds, sometimes thousands in a single summer.
1. Philadelphia; August-November 1793; approximately 5,000 dead
This outbreak killed about 10% of the city's population, and thousands more fled, including an infected Alexander Hamilton and his wife. Dr. Benjamin Rush, who stayed, issued guidelines for avoiding infection and helped set up a "fever hospital" for victims.
2. New York City; July-October 1795; 730 dead
New York City, which in 1793 had turned away refugees from the epidemic in Philadelphia, suffered its own epidemic two summers later.
3. Boston, New York City and Philadelphia; Summer 1798; more than 5,000 dead
Concurrent epidemics hit the nation's three major cities.
4. Baltimore; Summer 1800; 1,200 dead
As the 19th century wore on, yellow fever outbreaks would increasingly be confined to the southern United States.
5. New Orleans; Summer 1853; 8000 or more dead
This outbreak illustrated a racial disparity in yellow fever mortality; 7.4% of white residents died, but only 0.2% of blacks.
6. Norfolk; June-Oct 1855; 2,000 dead
This epidemic, like many others in America, began with the arrival of a disease-carrying ship from the West Indies.
7. Mississippi Valley; May-Oct 1878; 20,000 dead
Starting in New Orleans, this epidemic spread up the Mississippi Valley to Memphis. More than half of the 47,000 residents of Memphis fled the city; more than 5,000 died that summer of yellow fever.
8. Cuba; Summer 1898; hundreds dead
Disease killed more than five times as many American soldiers as enemy bullets during the Spanish-American war; yellow fever was among the culprits, and its impact led to the establishment of a U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board led by Walter Reed that would unravel the mystery of yellow fever transmission and lead to its eradication in America.
9. New Orleans; May-October 1905; more than 900 dead
Yellow fever epidemics took more than 41,000 lives in New Orleans from 1817-1905, but the 1905 outbreak was America's last. Today, yellow fever continues to appear in small outbreaks in South America and more serious epidemics in West and Central Africa.