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Emerg Infect Dis. 2014 Mar;20(3):442-7. doi: 10.3201/eid2003.131366.

Drought and epidemic typhus, central Mexico, 1655-1918.

Abstract

Epidemic typhus is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia prowazekii and transmitted by body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis). This disease occurs where conditions are crowded and unsanitary. This disease accompanied war, famine, and poverty for centuries. Historical and proxy climate data indicate that drought was a major factor in the development of typhus epidemics in Mexico during 1655-1918. Evidence was found for 22 large typhus epidemics in central Mexico, and tree-ring chronologies were used to reconstruct moisture levels over central Mexico for the past 500 years. Below-average tree growth, reconstructed drought, and low crop yields occurred during 19 of these 22 typhus epidemics. Historical documents describe how drought created large numbers of environmental refugees that fled the famine-stricken countryside for food relief in towns. These refugees often ended up in improvised shelters in which crowding encouraged conditions necessary for spread of typhus.

KEYWORDS:

Mexico; Pediculus humanus corporis; Rickettsia prowazekii; bacteria; body lice; drought; epidemics; tree rings; typhus

PMID:
24564928
PMCID:
PMC3944858
DOI:
10.3201/eid2003.131366
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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