Aztecs Were Destroyed By Food Poisoning

The colonization of the New World remains a historical point of contention. Some say it was genocide, while others point to the role that disease played in destroying large numbers of the Amerinds of Siberian Mongol descent who occupied the Americas at the time the Europeans arrived.

Recent evidence suggests that at least one great die-off was caused by food poisoning more than an exotic disease, leading to the collapse of the Aztec empire:

Scientists say as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80 per cent of population – were killed when an epidemic known as cocoliztli swept Mexico’s Aztec nation in 1545.

…Ashild Vagene, of the University of Tuebingen in Germany, said: “The 1545-50 cocoliztli was one of many epidemics to affect Mexico after the arrival of Europeans, but was specifically the second of three epidemics that were most devastating and led to the largest number of human losses.

…Vagene co-authored a study published in the science journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The cocoliztli outbreak is considered one of the deadliest epidemics in human history, approaching the “Black Death” bubonic plague that felled some 25 million people in western Europe in the 14th century — about half the regional population.

Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, scientists found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety.

Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C causes symptoms similar to those of typhoid fever, but is relatively unknown in our present time:

Typhoid and paratyphoid fever are most often acquired through consumption of water or food that has been contaminated by feces of an acutely infected or convalescent person or a chronic, asymptomatic carrier. Transmission through sexual contact, especially among men who have sex with men, has been documented rarely.

…Cases of paratyphoid fever caused by serotypes Paratyphi B (tartrate negative) and Paratyphi C are rarely reported. Approximately 85% of typhoid fever and 90% of paratyphoid fever cases in the United States are among international travelers; of those, 75% of typhoid and 90% of paratyphoid fever cases are caused by serotype Paratyphi A acquired by travelers to southern Asia (such as India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh). Other high-risk regions for typhoid and paratyphoid fever include Africa and Southeast Asia; lower-risk regions include East Asia, South America, and the Caribbean.

In other words, they were done in by a fever resulting from food poisoning arising from fecal contamination of food or water. While this does not look like a deliberate genocidal act, the effect was indubitably devastating.