Yellow fever is unlikely to be found on a list of potential health threats facing Americans today. Most people, if they have heard of the disease at all, would consider it a historical curiosity from a bygone era. In this fascinating study of a once-terrifying pandemic, author James L. Dickerson makes it clear that the disease could reemerge with deadly virulence. In a vividly told narrative, filled with poignant and graphic scenes culled from historical archives, Dickerson recounts the history of one of the most feared diseases in the United States. From the late 18th to the early 20th century, yellow fever killed Americans by the tens of thousands in the Northeast and throughout the South. In Memphis alone, five thousand people died in 1878. Dickerson describes how public health officials gradually eliminated the disease from this country, so that by the mid 1950s it had ceased to be of much concern to the public at large. However, to this day no cure has been found. As a mosquito-borne viral infection, yellow fever is impervious to antibiotics, and it continues to wreak havoc in parts of South America and Africa. Focusing on the present, Dickerson discusses the potential threat of yellow fever as a biological warfare agent in the hands of terrorists. Also of concern to public health researchers is the effect of global warming on mosquito populations. Even a one-to-two degree warming enables disease-bearing mosquitoes to move into areas once protected by colder weather. He concludes with a discussion of current precautionary efforts based on interviews with experts and analysis of available studies. Both absorbing history and a timely wake-up call for the present, Yellow Fever is fascinating and important reading.
"Using personal tales, diary extracts and anecdotes, [Dickerson] paints a vivid picture of the full horrors of a disease that struck indiscriminately....he has written personal accounts of the great US epidemics and humanity’s fight to overcome the virus....this slender volume makes pleasant reading." Times Literary Supplement
"[A] well-written history of the yellow fever epidemics that ravaged Philadelphia, New Orleans and other locales from the late 1700s through the 19th century....As interesting as the medical tale are the social aspects, such as the role of the city's blacks, who believed they were immune to yellow fever, in treating its victims....Dickerson suggests that yellow fever is a prime candidate for use as a biological weapon, and he considers disturbing evidence that global warming could bring a resurgence of the virus in North America." Publishers Weekly