What Killed the Aztecs: A New Suspect Identified!


By Marissa Williams, MPH, Environmental Health Specialist

For centuries, the uncertainty behind what happened to the Aztecs has been an enigma, an expanse of mystery and wonder; not only to historians and anthropologists, but also to countless people throughout modern civilization. What caused the population’s massive and abrupt decline? While it has long been suspected that an epidemic of sorts was to blame, recent scientific discoveries of DNA extraction and analysis have finally provided a well-founded explanation – Salmonella enterica. These findings emphasize the invaluable role of public health in ensuring safe food, safe water, and healthy communities. The implications of the absence of public health can now be told in the story of the Aztecs.

For more information on this topic, see the following article from The Guardian: “500 years later, scientists discover what probably killed the Aztecs”


Top Organisms that Cause Foodborne Illness

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are attributed with causing about 48 million foodborne illnesses in the United States each year.  According to the CDC, the top 5 biological organisms that cause the most foodborne illnesses in the United States are Norovirus, non-typhoidal Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus (often referred to as Staph).  However, the “Big Six” foodborne illnesses required to be reported to the health authority by the persons in charge of food service establishments if found among food workers are Norovirus, Escherichia coli, Hepatitis A, Shigella, Salmonella typhi, and nontyphoidal Salmonella.  You may wonder why these two lists differ.  Although both lists are important, our food service regulations require the “Big Six” to be reported to the health authority due to the fact that it only takes a few organisms or viral particles to cause illness.  For instance, it takes 10 or fewer Hepatitis A viral particles to cause illness, yet a sick food worker may shed about 100 million of those viral particles in one gram of feces upon a trip to the restroom.  Hence, ensuring effective handwashing is of utmost importance in all cases.

For a list of foodborne germs from A-Z , go to www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/diseases/index.html .