Book Club: The American Plague, The Untold Story of Yellow Fever

american_plagueYellow fever is an awful disease that over 200,000 people per year contract, causing over 30,000 deaths. This disease causes fever, chills, nausea, muscle pains, and in severe cases (~15%) the symptoms progress leading to liver damage and bleeding in the mouth, nose and eyes. Yellow fever is caused by the yellow fever virus that is transmitted to humans through the bit of a mosquito.  There is no specific treatment for yellow fever, and currently the best protection against yellow fever is the yellow fever vaccine.

Although primarily a disease of Africa today, in the past, yellow fever was a disease of the Americas, with 25 major outbreaks in the Americas during the 18th and 19th centuries that caused hundred of thousands of deaths.  At that time, nothing about the cause of the disease, but less a vaccine, was known.  This is where The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby comes in. This riveting book takes us back to trace the history of this disease, highlights a horrible yellow fever outbreak in Memphis Tennessee in the late 1800s and then brings us on a journey of discovery in Cuba to identify how yellow fever is caused.  It’s a story about a disease, but also the people who studied the disease (and contracted the disease themselves in the process of their work).

The history described inn this book laid that groundwork for the development of the yellow fever vaccine that was developed in 1957 by Max Theiler that led to him being awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

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