Yellow Fever, known historically as Yellow Jack, Yellow Plague, or Bronze John, is an acute viral disease. The origins of Yellow Fever most likely contracted in Africa, with the transmissions of the disease from non-human primates to humans. The virus is thought to have originated in East or Central Africa and spread from there to West Africa. As it was endemic in Africa, the natives had developed some immunity to it. The Yellow Fever Virus is caused by the bite of infected female mosquitoes. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes from monkeys to humans, when humans are visiting or working in the jungle.
Symptoms includes fever, chills, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle pains (particularly in the back), and headaches. Symptoms typically improves within five days. In some cases within days of improving, the fever comes back, abdominal pain occurs, bleeding from the mouth and eyes which cause vomit containing blood, and liver damage begins causing yellow skin. The disease may be difficult to tell apart from other illnesses, especially in the early stages.
Yellow Fever is common in tropical and subtropical areas of South America and Africa. The virus, were probably transferred to North and South America with the importation of slaves from Africa, part of the Columbian Exchanged following European exploration and colonization.
The first definitive outbreak of Yellow Fever in the New World was in 1647 on the island of Barbados. An outbreak was recorded by Spanish colonist in 1648 in the Yucatan Peninsula, where the indigenous Mayan people called the illness xekik (“blood vomit”). In 1685, Brazil suffered its first epidemic, in Recife. The first mention of the disease by name “Yellow Fever” occurred in 1744.
Although yellow fever is most prevalent in tropical-like climates, the northern United States were not exempted from the virus. The first outbreak in English-speaking North America occurred in New York in 1688. English colonist in Philadelphia and the French in the Mississippi River Valley recorded major outbreaks in 1669, as well as those occurring later in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The southern city of New Orleans was plagued with major epidemics during the 19th century, most notably in 1833 and 1853. At least 25 major outbreaks took place in the Americas during the 18th and 19th centuries, including particularly serious ones in Cartagena in 1741, Cuba in 1762 and 1900, Santo Domingo in 1803, and Memphis in 1878.
A serious one afflicted Philadelphia in 1793. The yellow fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia, which was then the capital of the United States, resulted in the deaths of several thousand people, more than 9% of the population. The national government fled the city, including President George Washington. Additional yellow fever epidemics struck Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York in the 18th and 19th centuries, and traveled along steamboat routes from New Orleans. They caused some 100,000–150,000 deaths in total.