New Orleans, LA

New Orleans' Yellow Fever Pandemic in 19th century, part 3

Pierre St-Jean
Justin Scocchio/Unsplash

NEW ORLEANS, LA.- As a coastal town, New Orleans has many problems regarding its waterways, either in the levees or the water management. This article is the third of four articles that show New Orleans' yellow fever pandemic and its effort to manage sanitation.

Mosquitos were discovered at the turn of the 20th century as the actual vectors of transmission. Those insects found a perfect breeding ground in the city's haphazard drainage system and the area's vast bayou. Yet, in the 19th century, these misconceptions meant that the real problem went unnoticed while the disease returned during the hot summer months.

Waste, at the time, was abundant at the street-side drainage gutters. No wonder that people can easily find dirty stagnant water everywhere in the vast New Orleans waterway.

Nonetheless, enormous strides were made nationally in city services after the Civil War, despite these changes did not come easily. Greater New Orleans' topography and climate made improvements expensive, with mismanagement by the city government and little money to spare.

Other problems also loom because the public remained largely unconcerned about the state of sanitation. A report wrote, "insalubrity was flatly denied, or disbelieved." The other news penned that many people maintained "the nonexistence of the most dreadful evils."

In 1878 the New Orleans community was shocked out of its apathy when a devastating yellow fever epidemic originated in New Orleans and spread as far as Memphis. The epidemic ended out fatal, as almost 20,000 people across the Mississippi River valley died.

The epidemic proved significant to New Orleans. Upriver towns and neighboring Gulf Coast cities like Mobile, Ala. decided to shut down all travel to and from New Orleans, thus closing the trade to prevent the spreading of the disease.

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