The Impact Of Infectious Disease In The — страница 2

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because of the ideal weather conditions in this region. Prior to 1492, the Americas harbored relatively few infectious diseases. It is believed that the New World lived in virtual biological isolation from the rest of the planet due to the absence of domesticated animals and because of the path in which the Indians predecessors traveled. We know from origins of disease in Europe, that domesticated animals were to blame for the start of many epidemics. The New World lacked domesticated animals due to the extinction of large mammals, with which to draw from in the last ice age. Also, the remaining large mammals were not suitable for domestication for one reason or another. At the time of migration across the North American land bridge, cattle and sheep were still not utilized by

society and therefore were not a cause for the spread of disease. It is also believed that the path of migration across Beringia created a type of “germ filter” thanks to the harsh Arctic climate that killed off any bacteria or disease carriers such as worms or mosquitoes. In addition, the remoteness of clusters of migrants created a natural quarantine. By the time one group fell prey to an infectious disease they were unable to travel the great distances to infect other groups thereby extinguishing the disease. “While the New World had its native infections, including Chagas and Carrion’s diseases, trichinosis, tapeworm, and perhaps syphilis, few were deadly, and none (with the possible exception of syphilis), seriously threatened whole communities of European

colonists.”(6) The impact that this biological isolation had on the conquest of the Americas is obvious. Along with the weapons and horses that the Europeans brought to conquer the New World came disease. This was by far the most horrific instrument of destruction. After returning to Tenochtitlan from defeated a Spanish mission sent to est him and bringing with him only 1250 Spaniards and 8000 allied Tlaxcallan warriors, Cortes attacked the Aztecs which had pinned down the itinerant lieutenant left to govern them. His forces outnumbered and overcome by the Aztecs, he retreated and hours later Tenochtitlan was being ravaged by the previously unknown smallpox. It is believed that one of the soldiers picked up on the way back to Tenochtitlan by Cortes was suffering from smallpox.

This disease wiped out Aztec leaders and warriors and subsequently cleared the path for Cortes to retake the city of 1.5 million. This victory was clearly not attributable to advanced weaponry, horses, or military genius but rather disease. Upon returning to the city, Cortes chronicler Bernal Diaz wrote, “‘I solemnly swear that all the houses and stockades in the lake were full of heads and corpses. It was the same in the streets and courts…We could not walk without treading on the bodies and heads of dead Indians. Indeed, the stench was so bad that no one could endure it…and even Cortes was ill from the odors which assailed his nostrils.’” (2) Indeed it is from these first hand accounts, not skeletal remains, which provide us with the most evidence of destruction

caused by disease. These authors include Las Casas, Father Acuna, and Diaz del Castillo. Before long the smallpox epidemic spread all over Central and South America. Infected natives, yet to develop symptoms, would flee their villages and travel to other villages carrying the disease with them. “…that any Indian who received news of the Spaniards could also have easily received the infection.” (2) The reason that smallpox traveled so fast is because it could live in a dormant state on blankets and clothing or be transmitted by human breath. The incubation period was a long 10-14 days and because of this unsuspecting traders carried the virus all over the New World. “In general, the epidemics moved from east to west, loosely following the extent of European-American Indian

contact:” (4) This was compounded by the high population densities of large Inca and Aztec cities and a more sedentary lifestyle for the Indians. By the time Pizarro and his conquistadors reached Peru in the 1520’s, the Incas had already suffered from the ravages of smallpox. The epidemic left their leader dead with no clear successors which caused political unrest and the civilization was split into two easily defeated armies. One Spanish contemporary wrote at the time,”Had the land not been divided, we would not have been able to enter or win.”(1) Clearly, the reason the Europeans were so successful in their campaign against the native populations despite being outnumbered was because of disease. Not only did disease result in military defeat but also enabled the