Demographic Catastrophe — What Happened to the Native Population After 1492?

Topics: Infectious disease, Native Americans in the United States, Disease Pages: 4 (1566 words) Published: November 11, 2008
A “virgin soil” epidemic can be described as the introduction of several diseases into a population who has no knowledge or immunity against them. An example that comes to mind when thinking of this “virgin soil” concept is the devastating loses the Native Americans of South and Central America suffered after contact with European explorers. Unknowingly at the time, these explorers carried with them such diseases as small pox, malaria, measles, and yellow fever just to name a few. For the Native Americans, who have had no contact with these diseases are practically defenseless, which allowed it to spread so quickly. Without a strong enough immune system, these outbreaks killed hundreds of thousands if not millions of Native Americans, far worse than what weapons and starvation could accomplish. One example involves the legendary Native American woman named Pocahontas. She married English explorer/settler John Rolfe who returned with her to show that the natives of America could be tamed. Within the first year of being in England, Pocahontas contracted a case of small pox and eventually died. As time passed on these “virgin soil” epidemics spread from South and Central America into the lands of what we know now as the Continental United States. The same diseases that crushed civilizations as the Incas and Mayans almost 200 years before decimated such Native American tribes as the Cherokee, Huron, and Iroquois. More than half of some tribe’s populations were reduced by these new plagues that killed with great speed and efficiency.

Even today, new diseases are created or evolve into epidemics that modern technology and medicine cannot stop. As science allows us to repel common diseases, even completely cure them; new plagues are always a threat to the human race. Such diseases as Avian Flu, the Ebola Virus, and the biggest killer AIDS have claimed the lives of uncountable humans. They have not reached the death toll like the Bubonic Plague of the...
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