Pioneers in Public Health The NYU - Bellevue Contribution

Typhoid in the Battlefields

An 1873 graduate of Bellevue Hospital and Medical College, Dr. Walter Reed enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1875. Early in his career, he conducted research that led to the diagnosis of diphtheria in the battlefields. In 1898 he was appointed by Surgeon General George M. Sternberg to lead the Typhoid Board, with the charge to investigate the epidemic of typhoid fever that swept military camps. Dr. Reed and his staff confirmed that the disease ravaging the camps was indeed typhoid, spread by flies and unsanitary conditions at the camp. Understanding how typhoid was communicated allowed military officials to establish sanitary guidelines in all military camps, containing the spread of this disease in the battlefields and saving many lives.

Fighting Yellow Fever

Dr. Walter Reed was appointed to the Yellow Fever Board in 1900, taking him away from his work on typhus. He became part of a quartet of doctors who would attempt to understand the cause and contagion of the tropical disease yellow fever. Dr. Reed traveled to Cuba, where the Board worked tirelessly on controlled experiments, concluding that yellow fever is transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. This discovery disproved the widely held belief that the disease was caused by human contact with soiled bedding and spread through body fluids.

With a clear understanding of how yellow fever is spread, the next step was to develop a way to contain the disease. Dr. William C. Gorgas built on the work of Dr. Reed, and instituted measures for the control of mosquito populations, which effectively managed yellow fever epidemics.