have been sitting reading that most wonderful book -- La Roche on
Yellow fever -- written in 1853. Forty-seven years later it has
been permitted to me & my assistants to lift the impenetrable
veil that has surrounded the causation of this most dreadful pest
of humanity and to put it on a rational & scientific basis."
these words to his wife at midnight, December 31st, 1900.
Cuba, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States Army
Yellow Fever Commission had demonstrated
irrefutably that the mosquito was the vector of transmission for
yellow fever. Cuban
scientist Carlos J. Finlay had first proposed
such a connection in 1881, but had not been able to prove his theory
conclusively to the world scientific community.
and the other members of the Commission, James Carroll, Aristides
Agramonte, and particularly Johns Hopkins scientist Jessie
Lazear, had sought Finlay's assistance to clarify and ultimately
test the mosquito theory. Indeed in the very early stages of the
investigation, Lazear lost his life to a case of yellow fever, very
likely experimental in origin.
Deeply dismayed at the
loss of his friend and colleague, but intrigued by the very real
possibility of a solution within reach, Reed designed an experimental
protocol which would withstand strict scientific scrutiny. He obtained
permission from the military leadership to establish an experimental
facility -- which he named Camp Lazear
-- near Columbia Barracks, Quemados, Cuba, on the outskirts of Havana.
The Commission also sought volunteers
from among the U.S. Army corps stationed at Camp Columbia and from
recent Spanish immigrants to Cuba. In conjunction with the use of
human subjects, the Commission developed perhaps the first formal
informed consent forms surviving
from a medical experiment.
As Reed noted to his
wife, the experiments proved dramatically successful. Mosquito eradication
campaigns began immediately in Cuba with remarkably rapid results.
Sanitation efforts took hold in South and Central America, Africa,
and the American South, largely under the guidance of Rockefeller
Foundation scientist Henry Rose Carter.
Yellow fever, once so devastating, had been conquered.
In 1937, Mayo Clinic
physician Philip S. Hench began a life-long
project to document the story of the yellow fever discovery. His
monumental collection of manuscripts, printed materials, photographs,
artifacts, and research is the source of this digital archive. For
more information on the Yellow Fever story, please see our Web