LARGE EPIDEMICS OF HEMORRHAGIC FEVERS IN MEXICO 1545-1815
In 1545, twenty-four years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, an epidemic of a malignant form of a hemorrhagic fever appeared in the highlands of Mexico. The illness was characterized by high fever, headache, and bleeding from the nose, ears, and mouth, accompanied by jaundice, severe abdominal and thoracic pain as well as acute neurological manifestations. The disease was highly lethal and lasted three to four days. It attacked primarily the native population, leaving the Spaniards almost unaffected. The hemorrhagic fevers remained in the area for three centuries and the etiologic agent is still unknown. In this report we describe, and now that more information is available, analyze four epidemics that occurred in Mexico during the colonial period with a focus on the epidemic of 1576 which killed 45% of the entire population of Mexico. It is important to retrieve such diseases and the epidemics they caused from their purely historical context and consider the reality that if they were to reemerge, they are potentially dangerous. INTRODUCTION In 1545, twenty-four years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, a disease that had never before been seen appeared in the highlands of Mexico. The illness was char- acterized by an acute onset of fever, vertigo, and severe headache, followed by bleeding from the nose, ears and mouth; it was accompanied by jaundice and severe abdom- inal and thoracic pain as well as acute neurological mani- festations. The disease lasted three to four days, was highly lethal, and attacked mainly the native population, leaving the Spanish population almost untouched. The epidemic of 1545 covered Mexico, lasted four years, and was responsible of approximately 800,000 deaths in the Valley of Mexico alone. At that time, Mexico had a population of 6.4 million inhab- itants. The impact of this epidemic was immense; approxi- mately 80% of the Indian population died during this epi- demic.