In several media interviews I've done on Ebola, I've been asked about historical examples of infectious diseases contributing to the demise of nations--a real fear in Liberia. Some of the examples I've given include: the Aztec Empire & smallpox; Napolean's army and typhus; Justinian's Plague & the Roman Empire; and the Plague of Athens & the Athenian Empire.
In the US, infectious diseases have made their mark on history too. Think of the Panama Canal and Yellow Fever or the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. A recent paper, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, adds another to the list: the death of President William Henry Harrison.
Renowned medical historian and infectious disease physician Dr. Phillip Mackowiak, whom I've had the pleasure of hearing dissect the death of Alexander the Great, challenges the long-held notion that President Harrison died from community acquired pneumonia--a leading killer even today.
In its place, Dr. Mackowiak suggests typhoid fever and based on the notes of President Harrison's personal physician it seems to be a convincing argument. One clue is the President's lack of an accelerate pulse, a hallmark of infection with Salmonella typhi.
In fact the single case of typhoid fever I've diagnosed had me anchoring my conclusion to just that. Staring at a college student with a fever of 104F and a pulse rate of 80 after recent travel to India, I was certain of my diagnosis.
It's interesting to speculate on the historical ramifications of President Harrison's death which included, among other things, the annexation of Texas and Mexican-American War.
So, when asked about the impact of infectious diseases, one can connect a microbe to the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders by way of the 1 month presidency of William Henry Harrison.
Tippecanoe and Tyler Too--that almost sounds like a cheer.