Diseases have ravaged human populations for thousands of years, bringing down kings and their mighty kingdoms. The biggest killer introduced to the Americas by the Europeans is smallpox, which dropped the population of Native Americans from 100 million to just five to 10 million. Caused by the variola virus, smallpox symptoms include high fevers, body aches and rashes. The disease is most commonly spread through direct contact with an infected person’s skin or body fluids, but it can also be airborne. After smallpox killed two million people globally in 1967, the World Health Organization (WHO) ran a campaign to destroy smallpox. The last known documented case of smallpox was in 1977.


Malaria is another big killer—and it’s caused by plasmodium microbes. Records of malaria date back over 4,000 years. During the American Civil War, 1,316,000 soldiers contracted malaria, and 10,000 soldiers died. Symptoms of malaria include fever, chills, sweating, headache and muscle pains. Fortunately, Malaria has now been eradicated in the U.S.

To learn about other diseases that have disrupted life in America—including spanish influenza, typhoid fever, polio, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS—check out the infographic below.

Epidemics in America [Infographic] 1

An infographic by the team at Online Masters In Public Health



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