Brazil's Era of Epidemics in a Hemispheric Context
Friday, July 20, 2012 at 10:56AM
Ian Read

A series of unfamiliar and devastating epidemics struck Brazil in the second half of the nineteenth century.  These epidemics had a profound impact on Brazil’s political, economic and social development when the boundaries of deadly and frightening scourges of yellow fever, cholera, malaria, bubonic plague, and smallpox shifted across national boundaries.  These diseases altered because of intentional human action (i.e., smallpox vaccination campaigns), but more frequently changed because of unintentional actions (agricultural drainage and nutritional improvements decreased malaria incidence) or non-human habitat changes (the distribution of aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the vector of yellow fever, altered).  This project places Brazil’s “era of epidemics” (1849 – 1910) within a broader context of 1) divergent hemispheric development and 2) pathways for disease movement.  The nineteenth century was, after all, a time of clipper ships, packet boats and steam engines, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans composed the wider region’s primary passageway for the increasing flow of goods, people, and microbes during the second half of the nineteenth century.


Article originally appeared on Era of Epidemics: A Spatial Approach to Disease and History in Imperial Brazil (
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