Sword of Pestilence: The New Orleans Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853

Lester S. King, MD
JAMA. 1966;197(6):517-518. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03110060191046.
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Today, when yellow fever is under control, we do not think of the devastation which it might wreak on a community. In 1853 a frightful epidemic attacked New Orleans, and the story of this attack, its gradual invasion, rapid progress, and slow ebbing away, constitutes the theme of this latest work by historian John Duffy.

What does an epidemic do to a city? How does the community try to cope with pestilence? The answer will involve many different aspects —medical, social, political, economic, and religious. Duffy, relying on primary sources—predominatly newspaper accounts, contemporary medical journals, and archival material—builds up a graphic picture of the way a city met the challenge.

It took a long time for authorities in New Orleans to admit that an epidemic existed. A few sporadic cases, although unpleasant to contemplate, nevertheless would not cause panic, nor interrupt business activity, nor seriously concern the politicians. But as


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