When Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic Ocean and touched down in North America in 1492, he changed the world forever. He bridged the “old” world in Europe, Africa, and Asia with the “new” world in the Americas.
But along with a new wave of settlers, he also brought with him a devastating suite of scourges.
The Native Americans’ immune systems were not equipped to handle and this. Along with their own set of diseases at the time, Columbus’ arrival created a devastating concoction of maladies.
“It was a culture clash, obviously,” Stephen Prescott, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation president, told the OMRF news site. “But it also launched a clash of infectious diseases.”
These infections were devastating. OMRF reports that their impact was more catastrophic than the Black Death in medieval Europe, which is estimated to have killed 25 million people in just five years, between 1347 and 1352.
Of the estimated 250,000 natives in Hispaniola, Columbus’ first stop in the Americas in 1492, new infectious diseases wiped out a staggering 236,000 indigenous people by 1517 — nearly 95% of their population.
Medical records were sparse or flat out didn’t exist back then, so it’s difficult to say exactly where and when certain diseases emerged. But here is an inexhaustive list of 30 diseases that were believed to have either been introduced to the new world — or worsened — in the post-Columbian era, which we found in a 1992 study in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology:
4. Bubonic plague
8. Scarlet fever
9. Chicken pox
10. Yellow fever
12. Lyme disease
13. Q-fever (bacterial disease carried by cattle, sheep, and goats)
14. Leishmania (parasitic disease)
15. Whooping cough
16. African sleeping sickness (parasitic disease)
17. Filaria (parasitic disease)
19. Septicemic plague (one of the three main forms of the plague)
20. Schistosomiasis (parasitic disease)
25. Taeniasis (tape worms)
28. Mycotic diseases (fungal diseases)
30. Legionellosis (bacterial disease)