Why Didn’t The Europeans Get Wiped Out By Native American Diseases?
The indigenous Native American population was decimated by diseases brought along by the European settlers. Diseases like the plague, chicken pox, cholera, diphtheria, influenza, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. It is estimated that upwards to 80-90% of the population was lost.
But why didn’t the Europeans get wiped out by Native American diseases?
The best guess is that Europe had been a crossroads for war and trade for a thousand years. Because of that, it had encountered an extraordinary number of diseases and plagues. On the other hand, the Americas were quite isolated. This meant that the Europeans had the stronger immune system. Not helping the matter, native Americans at the time were descendants from a very small group, their gene pool was limited. Immune systems thrives on variety. The greater the variety in the immune system, the greater number of microbes it can recognize and therefore destroy.
Another contributing factor is that Europeans had spent a long time around domestic animals, which were the source of the many diseases to afflict humans in the Old World. By contrast, native Americans had few domestic animals. As a result, Europeans had developed some resistance to disease but native Americans hadn’t.
Though, there may have been at least one native American bug that wiped out quite a few Europeans. Contested and controversial, we might have the new world to thank for syphilis. The first known case of syphilis showed up in Italy in 1494. Many believe the Spanish contracted syphilis in Haiti and the Dominican Republic then gave it to the Italians and French at the siege of Naples.