Smallpox has a long history with our species, such a long history that our current civilization probably wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t exist. Almost every culture has experienced the devastation that it leaves, and this is clearly proven by the ongoing fear that an outbreak may become a reality. Unfortunately this fear became a reality for the Native Americans in the 1700’s.
Smallpox is adapted to humans and lives nowhere else. There is no animal or plant that the virus can hide; only human can carry smallpox. Only when there is a plentiful population is it possible for infection to continue, making the successful evolution of smallpox useless until large cities are developed. Once these were accessible, however, the perfect environment was available to the virus. Smallpox settled in and spread death and terror for countless centuries.
In the 1500’s smallpox had been established in the European cultures. Although the virus caused endless death, the European people had slowly evolved to a decent level of immunity. This made the possibility for smallpox epidemics to wipe out a given population slim to impossible. However, this was not the case with the Americas. Here smallpox was unknown, creating a biologically susceptible group of people.
The Europeans accidentally introduced smallpox to the Native Americans during the very first contact. They also transferred large numbers of animals and plants during this contact. The 'Columbian Exchange' as historians call it, brought the potato, the pineapple, the turkey, dahlias, sunflowers, magnolias, corn, chilies and chocolate across the Atlantic. This exchange, named after Christopher Columbus, brought more diverse foods and animals to the Europeans, while leaving diseases such as measles, chicken pox, typhus, typhoid fever, dysentery, scarlet fever, diphtheria and smallpox for the Native Americans to battle.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, various sources estimate native population in North and...