Eighty percent of the Mexican population died from 1545 to 1548. It is known as one of the worst epidemics in history. Mexican natives have referred to this as the cocoliztli, which is another world for pestilence.
The pestilence struck again from 1576 to 1578. Half of the remaining population was wiped out by the pestilence. One person wrote that the land that they knew as New Spain had been almost completely wiped out. Scientists have been trying to find out exactly what killed the Mexicans for the past several decades. They have thought that the mysterious illness may have been hemorrhagic fever, measles or smallpox.
Scientists recently found a trace of DNA that has given them a clue of what the mysterious illness was. They found DNA from salmonella enterica. This is a pathogen that can cause typhoid fever. The results of the study have been published in “Nature Ecology and Evolution.”
The reason that scientists have had trouble identifying what wiped out the Mexican population was because it is hard to track an infectious disease from skeletal DNA. The researchers used a computer program to analyze the DNA. Ashlid Vagene is one of the study authors. She stated that they were able to see anything and everything using the computer model.
The scientists believe that the disease was brought over here by Europeans. Researchers have found that the same strain was in Norway before it was in Mexico. Ashlid stated that the pathogen may have caused several diseases. She also stated that their findings have limitations. They can only look for pathogens that exist.
However, she believes that the results of the study will help people understand how diseases were spread in Mexico. She calls the discovery the first piece of the puzzle to finding out what caused the epidemic.