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1887 Epidemic in Tampa

Tampa was relatively free of Yellow Fever from 1871 to 1886, so the Tampans were lulled into the notion that another large outbreak would not happen in their city.  However, in 1887 a man named Charlie Turk was the first known person in Tampa to die of Yellow Fever.  He was a suspected fruit smuggler, who also managed a barbershop. His family believed that he had contracted the illness from a blanket that had belonged to an Italian fruit dealer named Pepe.  While Turk’s illness was still running its course, another man fell ill with Yellow Fever. This man was also an Italian fruit dealer. Altogether, six Italian fruit dealers contracted Yellow Fever, along with a couple of their customers. These fruit dealers traded with citizens from Cuba. The cargoes of fruit from Cuba most likely were the carriers of the infected Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. When the Cubans traded with the Italians, the infected mosquito was able to bite the Tampan man, which led to the subsequent epidemic. Turk died in late September; however physicians were hesitant to call it Yellow Fever. It was not until October 4th that the official declaration was made.  This news incited panic in people which caused many to flee Tampa. Since a person who is infected with the illness does not immediately know they are sick, it was very easy for the illness to spread to other cities in Florida. While some people did flee the city, many others decided that it would be better to stay put.  From the remaining Tampans, many of them kept diary entries of their experiences with Yellow Fever.  In the diary of E.E. and E.B. Johnson, one can read about a man who loses his father to the disease coupled with the writer himself contracting the dreaded disease. Altogether, in the year 1887 it is estimated by Dr. John P. Wall that there were about 1000 cases of Yellow Fever in Tampa with about 100 deaths, however it is now thought that this number could be grossly underestimated.