Infectious Disease in the American Society


Infectious diseases remain to be a dangerous threat to the people around the world. In the past, thousands have died from the yellow fever outbreaks (Crosby, 2006). Additionally, in 2013 many people in Africa were deceased from the Ebola virus (World Health Organization, 2018). These tragedies indicate that although the health care system has significantly improved, there are many illnesses that are a threat to the humanity. The author of The American plague: The untold story of yellow fever, the epidemic that shaped our history Molly Crosby (2006), describes in detail the yellow fever outbreak in Memphis in 1878. The book gives an understanding of the factors that contributed to the events. The political state of the US and the overall social apathy of the people were crucial in this case. The economic difficulties resulted in the inability of the state to provide help to the city. Crosby (2006) states that poverty is an essential factor in disease epidemics. They have to be taken into account to battle the epidemics and pandemics. The outbreak of Ebola in 2013 has illustrated that the global society is not ready to handle such cases. The poverty in the region is one of the crucial factors that contributed to the events. According to Martinez, Salim, Hurtado, and Kilgore (2015), more than eleven thousand people have died. Currently, there is no treatment for the virus, and getting infected is easy as it is transmitted by the bats or human contact with a person that is carrying Ebola. For the US healthcare system to function successfully in a period of an epidemic, all the social, political, and economic factors that contribute to the disease spread have to be considered.

Infectious Disease

An epidemic of any infectious disease can cause hundreds or thousands of deaths. One of the most significant yellow fever outbreaks in the US took the lives of almost 4,000 in a period of in only three months in the 1793 (Golinski, 2016). In her book, The American plague: The untold story of yellow fever, the epidemic that shaped our history, author Molly Crosby (2006) describes the events in the 1878 Memphis in details. She provides a variety of documents as evidence of the damage that was caused by this tragedy. Although the healthcare system is much more advanced nowadays, it is essential to understand other factors that contributed to the outbreak. In this case, the social, economic, and political state of the country caused the outcomes.

The described events took place in 1878 Memphis. The story begins with a notion that the main character Mr. Angevine had left the city due to the yellow fever outbreak. Before that, his wife had died from the disease (Crosby, 2006). The author identifies several reasons for that yellow fever epidemic. Many immigrants have come to the US from foreign places (Crosby, 2006). The traveling was a central factor in the outbreak, as people would come on ships from different tropical countries, unknowingly carrying the virus.

Political, social and economic factors influenced the degree of the yellow fever epidemic in 1978. The “political neglect” and “public apathy” contributed greatly to the spread of the illness (Crosby, 2006, p.230). The president of the country failed to help the city battle the disease. Additionally, the social environment was not at ease because of the controversies that were happening between the North and the South. Furthermore, the president was afraid to provide financial aid, as “economic viability would certainly be at stake” (Crosby, 2006, p.236). The country was still going through a crisis that began in the 1870s. These difficulties were the reasons the government has denied the possibility of providing aid to Memphis until it was too late to ignore the problem.

The social and cultural determinants that contributed to the virulence and fieriness of the epidemic spread of the disease are “modes of transportation, populations of vulnerable hosts” (Crosby, 2006, p.284). The conditions people live in have an essential role in the matter. The author notes that poverty in modern Africa mimics these characteristics (Crosby, 2006). It may be the primary reason for infectious disease outbreaks that happen today in the region. Therefore, the main determinates that contributed to the epidemics of yellow fever in Memphis are the fact that people have traveled from tropical countries, poverty, the economic and political struggles that the country was going through at the time.

The social determinants that play a role in making the disease a global problem are similar to those that were essential in the Memphis yellow fever outbreak. Poverty is the primary contributing factor on a worldwide scale, as it determines the access of a person to healthcare and the necessary sanitary facilities. Political and public support is essential for consolidating people during such times. From the sociological perspective, many factors worsened the yellow fever outbreak in Memphis. In this case, if the government were to act more prominently, the consequences would be less tragic. The epidemics or pandemics of infectious diseases happen in the present day as well; the example is the Ebola virus, which infected many people in the African region. It is crucial to learn from the experience to be able to understand how to prevent these epidemics, or in case it is not possible – how to act to minimize the consequences.

Ebola is a dangerous disease that has taken many lives in the recent years. The disease’s epidemiological background is vast. It first broke out in the tropical forests of Central Africa in 1976 which is believed to be the place of origin for it (World Health Organization, 2018). There are several types of viruses that are now known to cause the illness. Mainly, the fruit bats carry the virus (Gostin, Lucey, & Phelan, 2014). However, these bats are not the only danger for humans. Contact with body fluids or blood of an infected animal will result in infection. Additionally, one person can transmit the virus to another by direct contact or by contacting the materials that were used by the person, carrying Ebola (World Health Organization, 2018). Therefore, anyone who touches clothes or any other item of the infected can become sick. That is why, even after being cured, a person should continue testing the blood to ensure that people around are safe.

The symptoms of Ebola are – fatigue, sore throat, headache, fever and muscle pain. After the initial stage, a person experiences vomiting, diarrhea, and rash. Then, the function of the kidneys and liver is worsening. Some people may experience external or internal bleeding. The blood is tested to diagnose the virus (World Health Organization, 2018). While no treatment that was proven to be the ultimate cure for Ebola, people that are suffering from it should receive medical attention. The illness should be provided with supportive care and symptoms treatment. Additionally, a vaccine has been tested in Guinea with promising results regarding protection from the virus (World Health Organization, 2018). Ebola is a disease of a high threat degree. In the 2013 – 2016 epidemic, there were 27,741 registered cases of people who had the virus. Out of those, 11,284 had died (Martinez, Salim, Hurtado, & Kilgore). If left untreated, it is fatal to anyone. The disease is a threat to any human, in contact with the affected animal or infected human.

As was mentioned before, the first and the following outbreaks of Ebola took place in the African region. As the World Health Organization (2018) states, in the first case, the rural area was affected. These are mostly poor regions; therefore, it can be argued that poverty contributes to the likeliness of the disease spread. Traveling is a factor as well, as visiting places were animals that can be carrying the virus live is a potential danger. While one can avoid the contact, the insects that are infected can bite anyone in the area. The World Health Organization (2018) states that the incubation period is anywhere from 2 to 21 days. Therefore, one can carry the virus while traveling. Without knowing it, the person can return home sick and transmit the Ebola to others. Cultural believes, practices and politics did not seem to affect the epidemic of Ebola in the African region.

Potentially, another outbreak of Ebola can affect people in both ways – they can choose to run or to stay and help. Such epidemics tend to cause chaos in the society, especially when doctors and scientists do not know much about the treat. This was illustrated by the yellow fever case in Memphis. Additionally, even people with expertise can suffer from the consequences. Some of those doctors, who were helping battle Ebola in Africa, were infected through human contact (World Health Organization, 2018). This happened because of how the virus is transmitted and the close contact that the doctors had with their patients. The situation implicates that it is crucial to learn from this cases and develop strict rules that would protect those who care for the ill. Most people will choose to run away from the disease. Nevertheless, there will be those who have enough courage to stay and help treat the sick.

Overall, the American healthcare society has a lot to learn from both cases. The diseases took thousands of lives and were difficult to handle. Understanding the sociological factors that influence the seriousness of epidemics and pandemics is a key to managing such cases in the future. The economic and social status of people that get infected were significant in the 1878 and 2013 outbreaks. The situation was worsened by the political state of the country and by the fact that many people choose to leave the city. In the case of Ebola, the social and economic factors were important as well. The infection broke out in an impoverished region, which can be an indicator of an underdeveloped healthcare system. The US medical and public healthcare systems need to develop a guide for prevention and handling the epidemics and pandemics with consideration of the social factors that contribute to the issue.


Crosby, M. C. (2006). The American plague: The untold story of yellow fever, the epidemic that shaped our history. New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Golinski, J. (2016). Debating the atmospheric constitution: Yellow fever and the American climate. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 49(2), 149-165. Web.

Gostin, L., Lucey, D., & Phelan, A. (2014). The Ebola epidemic: A global health emergency. JAMA 312(11), 1095-1096. Web.

Martinez, M. J., Salim, A., M., Hurtado, J. C., & Kilgore, P., E. (2015). Ebola virus infection: Overview and update on prevention and treatment. Infectious Diseases and Therapy, 4(4), 365-390. Web.

World Health Organization (2018). Web.

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