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history The European conquerors brought deadly epidemics to America. Was it the other way around?

Smallpox, Flu, Cholera: Disastrous Effects on Native Americans

The diseases that brought Europeans to America have had a disastrous impact on the indigenous people. The Europeans brought pathogens with them that did not previously exist on the American continent: smallpox, flu, measles and cholera. Smallpox in particular has decimated the indigenous Indian population - far more Aztecs and Incas have died from imported diseases than from the weapons of the Spaniards.

The pathogens, along with the weapons and horses of the Europeans, were an important factor that helped the outnumbered Europeans to conquer the New World so easily.

"Spanish flu" probably came from America

It may be that there were pathogens in America that bothered the Europeans - it could be that syphilis, for example, is an import from America, but there are now doubts. The famous "Spanish flu" also most likely originated in the USA.

But before that, by and large, Europeans actually infected Americans with new diseases, not the other way around. This is because Europeans had a completely different background: When Columbus came to America, the people in Eurasia had been farming and raising cattle for almost 10,000 years and had lived together in densely populated cities for several 1,000 years. These are the central breeding grounds for new diseases.

Livestock and agriculture: early development of defenses in Europeans

An example from today is avian flu - this is a pathogen that originates from Asian poultry farms and which there is concern that sooner or later it will mutate in such a way that it can also be transmitted from person to person. This is how it used to be: In places where people live together in a confined space and in close proximity to dense herds of animals, life-threatening pathogens such as smallpox or the flu can develop from harmless viruses and bacteria.

Of course, a few thousand years ago animal husbandry was not quite as intensive and the cities by far not as big as they are today, nevertheless: Europeans and Asians started with these things much earlier than the Indian cultures and therefore involuntarily had countless dangerous pathogens as a by-product bred. Measles and smallpox probably passed from cattle to humans at some point, and flu from pigs. And in Europe there was also a widespread trade that also promoted the spread of such epidemics.

No large herds of animals in South America

None of this existed in pre-Columbian America. The Incas, Aztecs and other American cultures had sophisticated agricultural systems, but not that long. And as far as animals are concerned, ancient America was hardly blessed with animals that could be bred. The Europeans had cattle, sheep, goats and pigs for thousands of years - in South America, on the other hand, there was practically only the llama and in Mexico the turkey, but neither were kept in large herds. And trading networks weren't that extensive either. All this meant that the Europeans not only had new pathogens with them, but that they had already gone through several epidemics in their history - think of the plague in the Middle Ages - and as a result had developed certain defenses while the Indian population introduced them Disease was absolutely defenseless.

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