EXHIBITS: On the Trail of Yellow Fever

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Science  28 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5577, pp. 2303c
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5577.2303c

“I rather think I am on the track of the real germ,” U.S. Army surgeon Jesse Lazear exulted on 8 September 1900, describing his research into the transmission of yellow fever. Just 17 days later, Lazear died from the viral illness, probably contracted when he used himself as a guinea pig to prove that mosquitoes spread this tropical scourge.

Lazear was part of the Army's Yellow Fever Commission, which within 2 years confirmed that mosquitoes were guilty. Investigate this medical milestone with the Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection, an online exhibit and trove of over 5000 original documents from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. The site's biographies introduce the major figures in the century-old story, including pioneering U.S. epidemiologist Walter Reed and Carlos Finlay, the Cuban doctor whose contention that mosquitoes transmitted yellow fever drew ridicule from most scientists of the day. Another section follows the bug-hunters to Cuba, where their experiments demolished the notion that yellow fever traveled through contaminated bedclothes or on air currents. The site is chock-full of period photos—here, Lazear (middle) and two other scientists—and you can peruse reports, letters, even a chart recording Lazear's fever on his deathbed.


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