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The Spread Of Disease In The New World

1846 words - 8 pages

The Spread of Disease In the New World

The extraordinary good health of the natives prior to the coming of the Europeans would become a key ingredient in their disastrous undoing. The greatest cause of disease in America was epidemic diseases imported from Europe. Epidemic diseases killed with added virulence in the " virgin soil" populations of the Americas. The great plague that arose in the Old World never emerged on their own among the western hemisphere and did not spread across oceans until Columbus' discovery.

Disease and parasitism play a pervasive role in all life. Many of these diseases start with microparasites, which are characterized by their ability to reproduce ...view middle of the document...

e. the lack of bathing). The traumatic route of infection is through insect and animal bites.

The objective of the host is to "escape" from the pathogen. This can be done through the use of the immune system or by quickly dying. When a host dies with the pathogen still inside the pathogen dies as well. Resistance to invaders evolved as a result of the development of the mechanism of immunity. The development of immunity depends on the recognition of differences in chemical structures of substances. The first requirement of an immunological system is to be able to recognize substances which are foreign to the host. These substances, known as antigens, stimulate the immune system by producing antibodies.

When infection persists in a community the individuals are regularly exposed to the particular antigenic stimulus which confers on them an immunity which persists through life (Linton, 156). Immunological protection is dependent on repeated stimulation. Isolated communities may elude exposure to an infection for years. A population totally made up of non-immune individuals may be referred to as "virgin soil" populations. Such is the case with the New World. The New World inhabitants had no previous exposure to the Old World disease and therefore carried no immunity for them. The longer a community eludes disease the greater the proportion of susceptible individuals within it ( Linton, 156). Once a disease is introduced from locality to another outbreaks will occur.
Europeans, having already encountered these pathogens, acquired immunities over the years due to prolonged interaction. Prolonged interaction between host (human) and infectious organisms, carried across many generations, creates a pattern of mutual adaptation, which allows both to survive. Until European advancement into America, the Indians did not have any previous exposure to these pathogens.

Small pox, typhus, diphtheria, measles, mumps, and whooping cough are just a few of the new diseases introduced into America. Diphthereia, meaning 'leather" in Greek, did not invade tissues but rather remained on the mucous membrane producing powerful toxins that killed cells. It was spread from person to person or by infected articles. The main cause of concern was suffocation by this thick, leather-like mucous membrane. Whooping cough was passed through direct transmission. It invaded the lungs when resistance was lowered by other viral infections. Pulmonary complications associated with this disease may lead to death and chronic inflammations of the lung lead to prolonged illnesses. Typhus was carried from man to man. It consists of an acute infectious fever, weakness, hemorrhagic rash and mental apathy pushing into stupor (Linton, 134). Small pox is passed directly from host to host with no intermediary carrier and with minimal delay. Severe headaches, backaches, chills and fevers develop rapidly. Eventually these symptoms are replaced by a rash of hard red lumps that after...

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