History’s homegrown plague

Scientists have always assumed that two epidemics that swept the Yucatan peninsula in 1545 and 1576, killing 80 percent of the native inhabitants, were diseases brought by colonists from Spain. According to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NEWS, new evidence suggests the culprit was in fact an indigenous virus rather than a European disease like smallpox or measles. But you can still blame the Spanish.

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The Spanish didn’t just maim and pillage when they came to the New World. They also disrupted traditional living patterns and agricultural practices, moving people from scattered villages to urban centers and introducing new crops. Ambitious building and land-clearing led to deforestation.

A University of Arkansas researcher believes these changes in land use, combined with a severe drought, brought rats into areas occupied by humans. The rats carried a virus –related to today’s hanta virus — which caused hemorrhagic fever and ultimately killed about 17 million natives.