Large epidemics of hemorrhagic fevers in Mexico 1545-1815

Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2000 Jun;62(6):733-9. doi: 10.4269/ajtmh.2000.62.733.


In 1545, twenty-four years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, an epidemic of a malignant form of a hemorrhagic fever appeared in the highlands of Mexico. The illness was characterized by high fever, headache, and bleeding from the nose, ears, and mouth, accompanied by jaundice, severe abdominal and thoracic pain as well as acute neurological manifestations. The disease was highly lethal and lasted three to four days. It attacked primarily the native population, leaving the Spaniards almost unaffected. The hemorrhagic fevers remained in the area for three centuries and the etiologic agent is still unknown. In this report we describe, and now that more information is available, analyze four epidemics that occurred in Mexico during the colonial period with a focus on the epidemic of 1576 which killed 45% of the entire population of Mexico. It is important to retrieve such diseases and the epidemics they caused from their purely historical context and consider the reality that if they were to reemerge, they are potentially dangerous.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks / history*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, American / epidemiology
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, American / history*
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Mexico / epidemiology