Native American disease and epidemics

Native American disease and epidemics pervade many aspects of Native American life, both throughout history and in the present day. Diseases and epidemics can be chronicled from centuries ago when European settlers brought diseases that devastated entire tribes to the modern day when Native Americans face serious struggles with particular diseases. The current crises in diseases and epidemics are addressed by many different groups, both governmental and independent, through a multitude of programs.


1 European contact
2 Disease as a weapon against Native Americans

2.1 Biological warfare during the Siege of Fort Pitt
2.2 Frequency and efficacy of biological weapon usage
2.3 Colonist accounts of smallpox effects on the native peoples

3 Contemporary diseases

3.1 Heart disease
3.2 Cancer
3.3 Diabetes
3.4 Mental health

3.4.1 Impact

3.5 Alcoholism
3.7 Stroke

4 Combating disease and epidemics

4.1 Diabetes programs

4.1.1 Governmental programs
4.1.2 Tribal Programs

4.2 HIV-AIDS Programs
4.3 Heart disease and stroke programs

5 See also
6 References
7 External links

European contact[edit]

An ill Native American in the 19th century, being cared for by a medicine man.

The arrival of Europeans ushered in what is termed the Columbian Exchange. During this period European settlers brought many different technologies and lifestyles with them; arguably the most harmful effect of this exchange was the arrival and spread of disease.[1]
Native Americans, due to the lack of prior contact with Europeans, had not previously been exposed to the diseases that were prevalent on the distant continent. Therefore, they had not built up internal immunities to the diseases or formed any medicines to combat them. Europeans came into the New World bearing various diseases. Those infected with diseases either possessed them in a dormant state or were not quarantined in such a way that distanced them enough from Native Americans not to spread the diseases, allowing them to spread into epidemics.[1]
The diseases brought by Europeans are not easily tracked, since there were numerous outbreaks and all were not equally recorded. The most notable disease brought by Europeans was smallpox. The Lakota Indians called the disease the running face sickness.[2] Smallpox was lethal to many Native Americans, bringing sweeping epidemics and affecting the same tribes repeatedly. In the summer of 1639, a smallpox epidemic struck the Huron natives in the St.