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Thursday
Aug252011

Mapping Smallpox in São Paulo

This is the first time we can visualize smallpox as it appeared and shifted in form in Imperial Brazil. Smallpox was no minor concern: it was the most destructive and feared disease across much of interior Brazil.  In its most virulent form, smallpox killed one in four infected, usually as a result of internal bleeding.  In its mildest form, it stole vision and beauty from the faces it touched.  As a pathway to death, smallpox is overtly undescribable, yet it occurred with such frequency to leave a widespread and profound sense of its power.  And it had a noticable personality, for unlike the other top killers of the day, it picked its victims from all kinds of people, not discerning pampered rich boys from slaves outcast at old age.  

Considering its importance for day-to-day life in Brazil, it is remarkable that we know so little about it.  Were people helpless? Did the Emperor, provincial presidents and town mayors not fight back?  Remember that this was the only major disease that European governments and charitable organizations had successfully resisted through public health programs and stringent laws as early as the 1820s.  Did Brazilians organize and finance institutions to provide vaccination for those who needed them?  Historians have guesses (i.e., the imperial government was too weak and poor), but few firm answers. 

I'll be putting more up as things develop. For the full series of maps, please click here.  



Smallpox in São Paulo, 1863

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Reader Comments (2)

Interesting to know that that's the case with Brazil.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSide Effects of Fosamax

Even today in our high developed world smallpox is a dangerous disease and the vaccines are not enough for everyone.

February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBook a flat for Olympics

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