Tag: European diseases
When the indigenous peoples of the Americas encountered European settlers in the 15th century, they faced people with wildly different religions, customs, and—tragically—diseases; the encounters wiped out large swaths of indigenous populations within decades. Now, researchers have found that these diseases have also left their mark on modern-day populations: A new study suggests that infectious diseases brought by Europeans, from smallpox to measles, have molded the immune systems of today’s indigenous Americans, down to the genetic level.
The immune system is a complex structure, built over a person’s life in response to environmental conditions. Antibodies, proteins that tag and attack viruses and bacteria, “remember” past invaders, allowing white blood cells to quickly respond during subsequent infections. Because different groups of people encounter different diseases—the European settlers had high exposure to smallpox, measles, and influenza thanks to close contact with livestock—they develop different antibodies.
European diseases probably preceded European contact in the Andean region. A catastrophic epidemic, which might have been smallpox, swept the region in the mid-1520s, killing the Inca leader Huayna Capac and his son. Subsequent epidemics struck the region in the 1540s, 1558, and from the 1580s to 1590s. These waves of epidemic diseases might have included smallpox, influenza, measles, mumps, dysentery, typhus, and pneumonia. The precise impact of smallpox and other European diseases throughout the Americas is difficult to document or comprehend. However, studies of more recent and limited virgin soil outbreaks clearly demonstrate how small a spark is needed to create a great conflagration in a native population.
Watching this coronavirus thing unfold reminded me of this clip in Men In Black where the question is whether or not to tell people something since “they are smart.” The retort is that a person is smart. People on the other hand are stupid, panicky, etc. If you ever doubted this, I set before you the coronavirus.
From everything we know so far, the coronavirus is not that big of a deal. Or, I should say, COVID-19, because in fact there are many other varieties of the coronavirus; so, strictly speaking, its a coronavirus, not the coronavirus. But that nuance … continue reading...