- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Yellow Fever: Re-emerging Anew. And the Panama Canal Scandal
There are hundreds of blood sucking creatures and many can cause disease in warm blooded animals
De Lesseps, Fraud, Liberty- and that Canal!
Yellow Fever: Re-emerging Anew…and The Panama Canal.
Travelers visiting the parts of the world where Yellow Fever holds sway are advised to become vaccinated against this life-threatening illness. The effective vaccination lasts for somewhere around 10 years (some so immunized have even seen to be immune 30 years on).
The best reason for being vaccinated is that Yellow Fever can be prevented, but not easily cured, as no therapy exists.
Yellow Fever (or “Yellow Jack”) is caused by the bite of another mosquito, not the malaria carrying Anopheles this time, but another pest, the Aedes aegypti.
(There has been confusion over Yellow and Blackwater Fever, but the latter is a complication of Malaria)
Asians can breathe a sigh of relief at this point, because yellow fever is not commonly found there (with the viral bridge any disease can be found nearly anywhere from time to time).
Yellow fever is found in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa and South America where is has appeared as several serious epidemics over the centuries.
Most notable was the illness of workers building the Panama Canal from the 1890 to early in the last century. Up to 85 % were hospitalized, many died. The mosquito had not been definitely named as the vector back then and care was primitive. Although yellow fever was the most feared killer, malaria also took its share of victims, whom, unlike yellow fever survivors, were not immune after recovery. So feared was the illness, workers used to flee at the first signs of another outbreak. (see note below)
The disease began in Africa and may have been passed from ape to man, as was malaria, by the mosquito. It was then taken to the Americas in the 1600’s during the early days of the slave trade.
Most sufferers do recover from the disease, although there are some 200,000 infected each year from whom 30,000 die: 90% of victims are from Africa.
The main problem is there is no effective therapy such as anti-virals and the immune system is on its own to deal with the invading Flaviviridae virus. This is why everyone going to these areas should be vaccinated (I am, even though I was only going to Mexico).
Even if you do survive, there are some nasty symptoms. If the disease progresses to the Toxic Phase you can be in real trouble with liver damage and jaundice (hence the name), and as the hemorrhagic (bleeding) phase begins, vomiting blood - the infamous “black vomit” of the canal builders - coma and death for about 15% of patients.
And yellow fever has been dubbed a “reemerging disease” since 1980; like malaria, it is cutting a bigger swathe again.
This species of mosquito is also accused of occasionally carrying the Dengue fever parasite and the lesser know, but very nasty Chikungunya parasite. The name means “that which bends up” referring to the agonized bending sometimes caused in its victim’s limbs. It is found in Africa and Asia as well. There is no vaccine nor effective treatment available for this Dengue-like disease which can prostrate victims for months with arthritis-like symptoms. Most people do recover.
When we study viruses it’s no wonder some see them as the real rulers of the planet and all the rest of life as their prey.
Not to unnecessarily belabor the point, but why wouldn’t everyone get this vaccination when it is an absolute life-saver which lasts for years and years?
The Panama Canal Fiasco. Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer who successfully completed the Suez canal at sea level without locks proposed to do the same at Panama.
This venture was doomed from the start, thanks to yellow fever, malaria, mudslides, and the inhospitable tropical conditions.
It culminated in a huge scandal with de Lesseps and his son - along with about 150 French officials - accused of fraud. The engineer and his son were sentenced to prison but escaped by a technicality involving the statute of limitations.
The US bought what was left of the Panama Canal Company in 1904 and finished the project - but with locks, far easier than a whole canal at sea level.
Some time earlier, in 1884, de Lesseps, then in favor at home and abroad, officiated at the presentation of the Statue of Liberty to the USA from France. Not the French - nor the Allies - could know back then how prophetic the love of liberty would be to a France torn and occupied by two World Wars and eventually liberated by the Allies in 1945.
On a final, ignominious note, Nasser used de Lessep’s name as the code word for launching the attack on the offices of the Suez Canal! This began the Suez conflict in 1956, with this writer’s participation. (The USA stopped this war due to some commercial conflicts of interest I believe…you could find out online, but this article was meant to just be about Yellow Fever).