August has historically been known as a month of high anxiety in Louisiana – summer’s swelter reaches its most uncomfortable levels and the Gulf of Mexico often begins to churn with hurricanes – but one devastating menace from the long hot season has fortunately been eradicated. 1905 marked the last summer that yellow fever swept into the state, and after public-health campaigns to drain areas of stagnating rainwater and laws requiring the sealing of cisterns were enacted, the mosquito-borne “saffron scourge” was largely eradicated.
The first case of yellow fever to strike Louisiana occurred in 1769, but the first epidemic transpired in 1796 when 638 people (out of a population of 8,756) died from the disease. Territorial Governor William C.C. Claiborne contracted yellow fever in 1804, as did his wife and daughter, both of whom died from it. Five years later, Claiborne lost his second wife to the virus. On a single day in August 1853, 230 deaths were reported in New Orleans. Newspapers and citizens referred to it as the “Black Day.” In August of that year, an average of 1,300 people died each week. Its main victims were immigrants and newcomers to the city, and for this reason it was also referred to as the “stranger’s disease.”
To read more about the full KnowLA entry on the yellow fever epidemics, click here.