What diseases did the "injuns" give the white man?

And next in out series of disease-orientated threads, presented by Laudenum…

Seriously though. The Indians were pretty much wiped out by Westerners who went to colonise the Americas, some of them by slaughter, but most AFAIU by diseases introduced by the Europeans.

Yet, it doesn’t seem that the natives gave the Europeans any diseases back (certainly not to the same scale).

Any particular reason? Or did they, and I never heard of it?

Cecil has tackled this one: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/995/why-did-so-many-native-americans-die-of-european-diseases-but-not-vice-versa

Merci beaucoup

Just wanted to add – Happy Columbus Day!

William McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples discusses this issue at length. I believe Jared Diamond discusses it also in Guns, Germs and Steel.

The thesis in both books goes like this

  1. Humans, and thus parasitic diseases, got their start in Africa.
  2. Those parasites don’t do so well in colder, i.e. temperate or colder climates.
  3. As humans migrated to northern, colder climes, the parasites died out
  4. the humans in North and South America got there via the Alaska land bridge, and thus the parasites died out during the journey from Asia to North America
  5. even as humans moved to tropical areas of south america, they were there for a relatively short time, not long enough for new parasites to evolve.
  6. so, the humans in North and South America did not evolve immunity to the diseases.

I believe Diamond wrote that it was also because the Native Americans didn’t have large domesticated animals. A lot of the diseases that Europeans were immune to were diseases that began in large animals. Europeans (Old World people in general, actually) spent a lot of time in rather close quarters with their domesticated animals (often living with them in the house in the winter if they were too poor to have a barn), so the diseases would skip around between the species. At first, people did die from this, but eventually, since the ones who developed immunity quickly survived to reproduce (hello, Darwin!), immunity spread throughout the population.

So Europeans had both a vast pool of animal-to-human diseases on tap, and an immunity to them that the Native Americans, with no large domesticated animals, did not.

Gambling addictions?

Yeah, Diamond dwells on the domesticated animals bit. I’m a bit confused about the relevance of parasites and climate. Most of the nasty shit that killed Native Americans was bacterial or viral. Climate don’t really enter into it.


WAGgish territory here:

Well, bacteria and viruses won’t survive as long outside of the body in a harsh climate. Thus, you get less transmission from sneezes or even from dead bodies. Plus, harsh climate will quickly kill off anyone that starts getting sick – again, with less chances for the pathogen to spread. Conceivably, there might be less harmful parasites such as fleas that are carriers. These carriers may also die off in the cold.

My guess is that these factors would do a lot to prevent disease from spreading across the strait, and only the milder or sturdier pathogens would survive the journey.

:eek: I’ve never hears of that day. What a jammmy post!

One of the most deadly diseases was probably not brought by the Europeans, but was an indigenous hemorrhagic fever (like Hantavirus or Ebola). Cocoliztli was the name given to a disease that hit Mexico in the 16th Century, and though it was long thought to be another outbreak of smallpox or something similar, it seems more likely to have been native. The Spanish seemed curiously immune to it, however.[sup]*[/sup]
This article by Acuña-Soto which cites his earlier paper making the case gives a good brief overview of what happened, and suggests additionally that a massive drought may have exacerbated the effects of the disease.

*This is a potential blow to the theory, except none of the second-generation Spanish died either, and they wouldn’t have had any immunity to smallpox.

And lung cancer.

This, for me, seems the likeliest explanation. The peoples of Africa, Asia and Europe had been swapping lurgies back and forth for millenia, beefing up their own immune systems in a never-ending arms race with the evolving microbes. Meanwhile the relatively small populations of the Americas, Oceania and so on were tucked up in their own small worlds where the competetive pressures just didn’t favour the same level of ‘armament’. Its the same phenomenon that resulted in large-continent animals overpowering any isolated island ecosystems they were introduced into (snakes, rats, pigs, ferrets, cats, etc.).

The Americas were a lot more fully populated than we were taught in school. Perhaps as many as 100M people. By the time the English explorers arrived, many Natives had already died from diseases spread by contact with the Spanish. Those diseases would spread far beyond the territories actually settled by the Spanish because the Native Americans would often flee from those settlements, or would simply pass on the disease through trade networks or their own natural travelling.

I’m of the opinon that 100 million is grossly generous, but I agree they were much more heavily populated in the pre-contact era than by the 17th century. But since population groups were relatively isolated (not much contact between regions), diseases tended to be beaten down in a single area and could not spread widely.

How does that compare with the combined African/Eurasion population at the time?

How about all the diseases associated with smoking tobacco?

To answer the OP directly, and referencing Cecil’s column:


What’s with the porridge bird question from Cecil’s Column?