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Virgin Soil Epidemics and Demographic Collapse in Latin America. Virgin Soil : Initial outbreak of a disease previously unknown or absent from a particular area for many generations

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virgin land virgin soil
Virgin Soil: Initial outbreak of a disease previously unknown or absent from a particular area for many generations

Precolumbian Diseases: syphilis & other trepanomas, tuberculosis, arthritis, (American) murine typhus, other enteric diseases probable

Virgin Land/Virgin Soil?
biology and epidemics
Biology and Epidemics




Environmental Factors (temperate vs. tropical, seasons)

Ecological Systems (including human populations)

epistemology and epidemics
Epistemology and Epidemics
  • Epistemological explanations central in determining human behavior
  • Social Behavior in face of epidemics informed by epistemological concepts of Life, Death, Dying, the Hereafter and the “Here Before”
  • Epistemological Understandings Inform Human Behavior when facing epidemics
    • Prevention
    • Healing: Medicine and Prayer
    • Quality of Social Welfare and Health Care Delivery
    • Quarantine and/or Flight
  • Population and Epidemics
    • 1491: 230,0000 or 1,500,000
    • 1650: <2000 Taino, +/- 5000 Spaniards
  • Material World: Conuco Agriculture
    • 1491: Conuco Agriculture (Yuca & Batata)
    • 1650 Gold Mining & Sugar Plantation
  • Social & Political
    • 1491: Cacigazcos & caciques
    • 1650: Forced Migration and Reducciones, Famine
  • Epistemology
    • 1491: Cemie, Cohoba, and Conucos
    • 1650: Despair, abortions, suicide
las casas hyperbole
Las Casas’ Hyperbole?
  • “There came over them so much illness, death and misery, from which infinite numbers of fathers and mothers and children sadly died. So that with the killings of the wards and the starvation and sicknesses that came because of them, and the hardships and oppressions that afterward took place, and miseries… that according to what was believed there did not remain a third part of the multitudes of people that were on this island from the year of 1494 until that of 1496.”-Las Casas
mexico tenotchtitlan
Mexico & Tenotchtitlan
  • Population and Epidemics
    • 1491: 10,000,000-12,000,000
    • 1520-21 Noche Triste
    • 1650: 1, 300,000
  • Material World:
    • 1491 Maize, Beans, regional specialization
    • 1650 Silver Mining, Farming (wheat) & Domestic Animals, Cattle husbandry
  • Social & Political
    • 1491: Aztec Empire with occupied client-state tributaries and dependent tribes
    • 1650: Reducciones, Labor rotations, forced migrations to mines in northwest, tribute diverted to export
  • Epistemology
    • 1491: Five Directions,Ages (Duality at 5th Cardinal Direction)
    • 1650: Temples Destroyed & replaced with Cathedrals, Nahuatl Royalty subject to Spanish authorities
inca empire
Inca Empire
  • Population and Epidemics
    • 1491: 37,500,500 (H); 3,300,000 (L)
    • 1527 : Huayna Capac succeeded by Atahualpa in Quito, who threatens Inca Emperor Huascar. 1650: 1, 300,300
  • Material World: Verticality (Mountains, Valleys, Plains)
    • 1491 Potato, Quinoa, guinea pigs
    • 1600 Exports from Mines of Potosí to Ports of Lima
  • Social & Political
    • 1491: Inca Redistributive System linked by labor rotations, ayllus, mitmaes (colonists) and mita
    • 1600: Forced migrations to mines in northwest, Production diverted to export
  • Epistemology
    • 1491: Viracocha; Inca as Sun God,
    • 1527: Huascar murdered, followed by Atahualpa, and Sun God vanquished
    • 1650: Viceroy Toledo in 1572 imposes new colonial order and puts end to neo-Inca State
execution of atahualpa
Execution of Atahualpa

“The earth refused to devour the Inca’s body – rocks trembled– tears made torrents, the Sun was obscured – the Moon ill.”


Guayna Capac, Inca:Cay curitacho micunqui?" (Do you eat this gold?)

-- Candia, Spaniard: Este oro comemos." (We eat this gold.)

historical epidemiology what can we learn
Historical Epidemiology: What Can We Learn?
  • Ecological Systems: Human populations are integral to ecological systems, environmental transformation, and Epidemic Disease
      • eg. Relation between shift from Rubber tapping to cattle ranching in Brazilian Amazon and spread of Chagas Disease
  • Economy and Epidemics
      • Trade & trading networks (ships and boats, paths and roads)
        • Introduction of new plants and animals
      • Markets
        • Disruption in circulation and flow of goods
        • Introduction of new products
      • Source of prosperity/livelihood
        • Agriculture, husbandry, hunting, fishing & gathering, mining, industry
  • Social Conditions and Epidemics
      • Settlement Patterns (Fixed, Migratory)
      • Migrations (rural –urban or urban-rural)
      • Social Standing and Relative Prosperity
  • Politics and Epidemics
      • Occupation vs. Colonization
      • Redistributive vs. hierarchical
denial and political will
Denial and Political Will
  • Investment in Prevention and Threats to World Economy
    • Re-emergence of malaria, dengue, and other tropical diseases in part due to weakened vaccination rates in health sector reforms privileging privatization over social medicine
      • Outbreak of polio in D.R. 1999 (due to breakdown in vaccination program from inadequate allocation of resources)
      • Emergence of Multi-drug resistant TB in Caribbean introduced in NY in 1990s (due to lack of treatment/medication)
      • HIV/AIDS in Haiti
looking ahead infectious disease and disease prevention
Looking Ahead: Infectious Disease and Disease Prevention
  • “High” counters vs. “Low” counters in Predicting Epidemics
      • spread of AIDS world wide
      • Cholera in Peru 1991
      • Re-emergence of MDR TB, Malaria, Dengue, and IPD
  • Health Care Inequities: Global and Local
      • Cholera in Colombia (1991) Urban vs. Rural Indians
      • HIV/AIDS in Haiti

Estimated number of people living with HIV

in Latin America and Caribbean, 1986–2005






of people


with HIV










epistemology in epidemic prevention
Epistemology in Epidemic Prevention
  • Effective Intervention and/or Prevention
    • Requires Specific Knowledge of Local Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices (KAP)
    • Requires understanding of core epistemological concepts about life, death, dying, the hereafter, and the “here before”
    • Requires Expertise from Area Studies (knowledge of language, culture, history, religion, politics, economic…..)
“Research and surveillance can map the global movement and evolution of microbes and guide interventions. Integration of knowledge and skills from many disciplines – the social, biological, and physical sciences – is needed. The focus should be system analysis and the ecosystem, rather than a disease, microbe, or host.” - M.E. Wilson, MD, EID 1:2 (April-June, 1995)
epistemology and epidemics1
Epistemology and Epidemics
  • Disease: medically defined physiological dysfunction
  • Illness: Individual Perception about disease
  • Sickness: Social role of affected individual