Connect with us


New Study Suggests Salmonella Epidemic May Have Wiped Out the Aztec Empire

A mysterious epidemic killed nearly 80% of Mexico’s population between 1545 and 1550.



Salmonella, the dangerous bacteria caused by contaminated food (and the reason the CDC cautions against eating undercooked eggs), has now been connected to an ancient epidemic, which may have contributed to the annihilation of the Aztec empire almost 500 years ago.

The disease was named cocoliztli, meaning “pest,” in the native Aztec tongue. It proved to be far more than a nuisance, however, as between 1545 and 1550 CE it decimated an estimated 80% of the civilization’s population — a population already struggling with European arrival and an extreme drought.

A mysterious epidemic killed nearly 80% of Mexico’s population between 1545 and 1550.
(Image: By Daphne Breemen via Wikimedia Commons)

This ancient illness, in addition to today’s symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting, led to body-covering red spots and horrific bleeding. The cause of the cocoliztli epidemic has remained a mystery for centuries, a topic of constant debate, but research has finally shed light on the mysterious pestilence.

With the help of a new algorithm and DNA from ten Aztec skeletons, the epidemic at least partially responsible for the civilization’s demise has been linked to a Salmonella variantSalmonella enterica Paratyphi C, according to paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The bodies themselves date back to the 1540s and were exhumed from an ancient cemetery in Oaxaca, Mexico thought to have been specifically connected with the epidemic.  Discovered within each set of ancient DNA lay traces of the Salmonella bacterium.

 Today, Salmonella (commonly associated with food-poisoning though not always its direct cause) represents something of an afterthought — worrisome, but not often cause for great alarm.

Though now its symptoms are certainly uncomfortable, the rarity of Salmonella poisoning and the advent of modern medicine mean the risk of death due to the bacterium is very, very low.

Evidently, this was not the case during the 16th century.

Are you looking for digital journalism training and experience? Are you a journalism major who wants to take your career to the next level? CMN’s Digital Journalism course gives you real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to journalism influencers and mentors, and a great place to display your work. You can get academic credit too. Check out the Digital Journalism Course here.

Natalie is a senior English major at Saint Louis University with a minor in French. She serves as the co-editor-in-chief of the school's literary magazine, Kiln, and its undergraduate research journal, Via. She also acts as the Arts Editor for the university's newspaper and works as a writing consultant at the school's English Language Center.

Sign up for the Morning Scoop

and wake up with us each day.

CMN Reports

Government3 days ago

Speaker Pelosi Endorsed Lowering the Voting Age to 16 years Old

The kids maybe alright to vote.

by , The Catholic American University
National News5 days ago

Here’s What We Know So Far About Operation Varsity Blues

A summary and the latest updates about the largest college admissions scandal to hit the country.

by , George Washington University
Government5 days ago

The Department of Health and Human Services Received Complaints of Alleged Sexual Abuse Against Foreign National Minors

Migrant children may be at risk on the ground and overseas.

by , The Catholic American University
Government5 days ago

California Governor Gavin Newsom Suspends Death Penalty Statewide

The Golden State is on the verge of ending the death penalty.

by , The Catholic American University
Government5 days ago

Top Congressional Republicans Decry Progressive Policies as Socialist

A Third Red Scare in Washington?

by , The Catholic American University
Government6 days ago

North Dakota State University Football Player Wears Socialist Pin at the Trump White House

The Reds infiltrate the White House.

by , The Catholic American University
National News1 week ago

Ethiopian Airlines Jet Crashes, No Survivors on Boeing 737

This is the second flight, in five months involving a Boeing 737.

by , CMN Senior Correspondent
Government2 weeks ago

Progressives, Socialists, Make Gains in Local Elections in NYC and Chicago

The left is on the rise in big cities.

by , The Catholic American University

Top Reads