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Yellow Fever: Re-emerging Anew. And the Panama Canal Scandal

Updated on April 12, 2012

There are hundreds of blood sucking creatures and many can cause disease in warm blooded animals

The distinctive Aedes aegypti mosquito at lunch
The distinctive Aedes aegypti mosquito at lunch

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).



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    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Dusty. That's some ve-hic-le! Must kick up a shitstorm of a contrail at full chat on deep sand!

      I died laughing the first time I hit Gila and saw the popuation sign, "300 folks and one old geezer," or something like that. The forecourt pumper told me folks pull up in their big air conditioned caddies and lincolns, get out of 65 degrees in the car and keel over like ninepins in Gila's 120!

      I crossed the border that way several times, through Ajo, etc...


    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I am sure they were, it's pretty standard for those latitudes (no latitude allowed!).

      Its sobering to see all these nasties are making a comeback. Life of all stripes is tenacious.


    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Hey Bob - that is scary stuff. My parents just went to Panama about 6 months ago (I remember it well because I watched them on a video cam - their ship going through the lock). I am pretty sure they were vacinated being in the medical profession. Thank goodness for modern medicine - when people will use it!

      Up and very interesting!

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

      Bob, I cross at the Gila Bend area and the areas south of Coolidge, Casa Grande, and Starfield areas, but travel to the Yuma areas that are available. I have a Sand rail and I will cross open areas that have yet to fence me in. My rail easily travels at a cruising speed of 100 mph in open expanses of smooth terrain. I've been harassed by US Border patrol on several occasions, once by helicopter, and there are pending charges that I'll have to appear for. They charged me with failure to yield their repeated requests to stop for questioning. I have a mid engine rig powered by a modified "Spider Monza" turbo charged engine that was out of a 64 corvair at 160 hp. and I've tweaked it to almost double that, and running a straight collector I was unable to hear their alleged calls for me to stop and they did get to speak with me on the US side as I reloaded my dragster on the trailer. I received notice via mail in regard to charges. My attorney just laughed and told me I didn't need to appear with him in court and that "It is a 10 minute job" for him to represent charges of my "conversation with the agents" that state they didn't have one. Go figure.


    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Dusty: I hope we can meet one day...what's your nearest border point on the Mexican side?

      Interesting story about granny and the doc. That canal was a real killing zone.

      I will be out thataway in October if the parts hold up.


    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

      Bob, great article, it caught my attention as a child I often spent a few weeks in summer in small town of Globe or Miami Arizona with a Lady I called grandma I still don't know if she was indeed related, I was raised single father home. To topic, she worked setting with and caring for the aged folk and one was a man I was told to call Doctor Braden, and he told me about working down in the canal with others developing the vaccine for Malaria and yellow fever. Before he died he gave me a chess set hand carved from bone, he delighted in beating me at the game, he was an interesting man to say the least.

      You should return to Arizona, so much to see, I think I could drive you across the border no problem, paper work? We can get from obamas provider, LOL,


    • Little Nell profile image

      Little Nell 6 years ago from Somerset, UK

      Thanks for your reassuring comment, diogenes, hopefully one less thing to worry about. My daughter is blogging as Lucy and the New Dawn Traders. Her voyage is an unusual one!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Au fait,. If I was a North American I wouldn't care about going anywhere else either. I am still in awe of the scenery and variety of the US.


    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 6 years ago from North Texas

      Very informative. This is why I have never left the U.S. We have enough nasty diseases to choose from without getting too exotic about it. With healthcare rationed here according to who can afford insurance or the healthcare itself, that would be the reason some people might not be able to afford the vaccination, and of course most of our antibiotics no longer work on anything.

      Voting you UP again, and useful . . . and interesting too!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Kat...lovely morning...thanks for cheering comment


    • profile image

      KatrineDalMonte 6 years ago

      Bob, this is a great hub with a good message. What an ugly disease it is. Vaccination does save lives. Thanks for sharing this.

    • profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago

      I am always on 100 - or most of the time - (and never conceited)

      Thanks for your kind words


    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 6 years ago from northeastern US

      hi, bob,

      congrats on the 100!

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I am sure she would be immunized against yellow fever, Nell. Bit of an adventurer! Contact risk is low in Trinidad and tobago despite reports of monkeys dying from YF


    • Little Nell profile image

      Little Nell 6 years ago from Somerset, UK

      Good hub Diogenes. Scary stuff. My daughter is on route to Trinidad at the moment and I think yellow fever is endemic there. I hope she had her injections, but she has travelled all around South America so she must have had the jab for that. I hope. She's sailing across from Cape Verde.


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