Discovery and Research of the Yellow Fever

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Viral Diseases: A Historical Perspective

Viral diseases are infamous for causing massive outbreaks and environmental catastrophes throughout human history quite unexpectedly. The latest example of this is the COVID-19 virus that quickly spread around the world, causing much trouble to the global healthcare system. However, such outbreaks are not new and occurred relatively often in human history. One of such examples is yellow fever that had occurred between the 15th and 20th century quite often and was successfully isolated before the mid-20th century. In fact, the experience of discovering, researching, and handling with yellow fever demonstrates that nearly any virus can be isolated with the further cases prevented with enough study.

Discovery and Research of the Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is an infectious disease that causes sudden symptoms of relatively mild severity and is widely transmittable throughout limited space. More specifically, it is mostly spread throughout the southern hemisphere in Africa, Asia and South America. The virus infects the specific species of mosquitos that transmit the disease to primates and humans, which makes it extremely challenging to trace it and prevent an outbreak in a short-term. Hence, yellow fever is generally traced by symptoms that become evident in people while they stay at or arrive from Africa, Asia, or South America. Such symptoms include fever, headaches, nausea, and fatigue ("Yellow Fever: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment"). In the modern world, the disease is handled symptomatically or with the use of vaccine. However, prior to the early 20th century, yellow fever was considered one of the most dangerous viral diseases with a number of difficulties for the healthcare system to overcome.

The disease was first discovered in the 15th century, after the first European colonists arrived in Africa. At the time, the contemporary researchers would note the phenomenal nature of the virus that caused most European colonists develop sever symptoms and die while the natives would only display mild symptoms of a common cold or influenza. During the Age of Exploration, yellow fever would efficiently travel to the Americas and become relatively spread there by 1647 through slave trade. Both colonists and native Americans were severely affected by the disease, almost wiping out the native population of South America (Staples 960). Nearly a century later, yellow fever would become studied more thoroughly with the first medical descriptions being made along with the initial struggle efforts against the virus.

The disease was actively studied during the 18th and 19th century, yet without any particular result. Yellow fever was first mentioned by its modern name only in 1744 by Dr. John Mitchell, a physician from Virginia. However, historians point out that at the time, there was no way to thoroughly check a particular disease, hence, Mitchell examined a large number of patients that demonstrated the common symptoms, which were characteristic of a number of other infections (Staples 960). The research continued and the virus was isolated in West Africa by 1927 by cutting down the population of mosquitos in the Americas and Asia. After the invention of the vaccine in the 1930s, only a few outbreaks occurred, and in 2016, the researchers noted a complete absence of the disease in Asia (Kuno 1349). While minor outbreaks still occur in South America and Africa, they are quickly put down, with the affected population being rapidly vaccinated. This makes yellow fever one of the most effectively handled viral diseases in the world.


The case of yellow fever demonstrates that a dangerous disease with possibly lethal outcomes can be handled rather effectively through thorough research and proper medical effort. While it took nearly five centuries for the world to effectively handle the yellow fever, the current status of this viral disease is relatively stable and controlled. The absence of the virus in Asia, one of the continents that hosted the virus for a very long only supports this notion and evidences the potential to drive the virus causing the disease extinct. The experience of handling the yellow fever is also a great case for future attempts to battle other infectious disease that might occur in human history. It becomes even more relevant in the light of the coronavirus pandemic. Considering the current situation with a quick vaccination development and steady decline in infection, it is likely that this experience has been used properly by the global healthcare system.

Works Cited

"Yellow Fever: Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment". Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 2022,

Kuno, Goro. "The Absence of Yellow Fever in Asia: History, Hypotheses, Vector Dispersal, Possibility of YF In Asia, And Other Enigmas". Viruses, vol 12, no. 12, 2020, p. 1349. MDPI AG, Accessed 21 May 2022.

Staples, J. Erin. "Yellow Fever: 100 Years of Discovery". JAMA, vol 300, no. 8, 2008, p. 960. American Medical Association (AMA), Accessed 21 May 2022.

June 06, 2022


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