Pandemic Part 2 of 4

This week’s blog post is part 2 of 4 in our pandemic series. The first Yellow Fever outbreak in New Orleans began in 1796 according to the Associate Director of Museum Programs at the Historic New Orleans Collection. Every subsequent year many residents lost their lives, until 1905 when scientists determined the transmission method. Yellow Fever was not a death sentence but with a 50% chance of survival the odds were frightening. In the summer of 1853 more than 8500 people died in New Orleans of the disease. It was an unpleasant way to go. The first stage included headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to light. Sometimes people would recover after this stage. If not, they experienced internal bleeding, many even bled from the eyes, as well as organ failure, seizures and vomiting. You could be dead within a week of your first symptoms.

Yellow Fever Creates New Class System

People sometimes referred to Yellow Fever as the “stranger’s disease” since many people who grew up in New Orleans had survived the outbreaks and developed an immunity. This created a new class system in New Orleans. People were prejudiced against immigrants. Only those considered acclimated to the disease were considered for good jobs and housing. Women might not marry a man unless he had immunity.

Pandemic Part 2 of 4

During the worst years, residents heard the cry of, “Bring out your dead” from the cart drivers. These workers relieved citizens of rotting corpses and hauled them to mass graves around the city. New Orleans became the “City of the Dead.” In 1905 doctors discovered that mosquitos transmitted the virus. A widespread campaign to eradicate the pests finally ended the years of misery. Roosevelt said at the time, “They took hold of it after it had started, and when it had got well under way, and they controlled and conquered it.”

During the current Covid-19 pandemic we should remember that the people of New Orleans have faced other crises and overcome them all. This time will be no different.

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