LD. Viral Epidemics in Latin America from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries and the Early Days of Virology in the Region


The contact between American and European populations after the Columbian voyages unintentionally introduced to the American continent a number of epidemic viral diseases that contributed to a catastrophic decline of the indigenous populations. Although influenza may have been the first pandemic introduced in the Americas in 1493, it was smallpox that had the most dramatic consequences, especially during the sixteenth century. From the seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, yellow fever was one of the most feared epidemic diseases in the Americas. The Latin American society responded to these epidemics with a number of innovative actions. The Spanish Royal Philanthropic Expedition of the Vaccine, the Balmis expedition, brought the smallpox vaccine to Latin America in 1804, only 7 years after its discovery by Edward Jenner. Similarly, the rabies vaccine developed by Louis Pasteur in 1885 was rapidly introduced in Argentina and Mexico in 1886 and 1888, respectively. The formalization of the germ theory of disease, especially by the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch at the end of the nineteenth century, stimulated the search for the “germ of yellow fever” by scientists in several Latin American countries. In 1900–1901, Walter Reed and collaborators, working in Cuba, described the mosquito transmission of yellow fever and the first human virus as the etiological agent of the disease. However, by 1881, systematic epidemiological observations conducted by the Cuban physician Carlos Finlay convinced him that the Aedes aegypti was the mosquito vector of yellow fever, an observation also advanced in 1858 in Venezuela by Louis Daniel Beauperthuy. Another early virus discovery in Latin America was that of rabbit myxomatosis by Giuseppe Sanarelli in Uruguay in 1898, the same year that Loeffler and Frosch described in Germany the viral etiology of foot-and-mouth disease, which was the first report of an animal virus.

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Ludert J., Pujol F., Arbiza J. (eds) Human Virology in Latin America. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-54567-7_1

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