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Reed, Walter

yellow fever disease jungle

(1851–1902) US epidemiologist; established the cause of yellow fever.

Reed trained in medicine in the University of Virginia and in New York, joined the US Army Medical Corps in 1875 and served in a series of frontier posts before specializing in bacteriology in the 1890s. In 1900 he was appointed to lead a small commission to study yellow fever, based in Cuba.

Yellow fever has a dramatic history; it has frequently proved a devastating epidemic disease, especially when non-immune groups (usually Europeans or North Americans) entered new areas (as in central Africa or the Caribbean) and became exposed. It is now known to occur in two forms; the long-known type is urban yellow fever; largely by Reed’s work, this is known to be due to a virus carried only by the female Aëdes aegypti mosquito. Reed’s group tested theories on the transmission of yellow fever using army volunteers, and fairly soon were able to prove a theory (due to Carlos Finlay (1833–1915)) that the mosquito was the transmitting vector.

By 1901 Reed had shown that the pathogen was a non-filterable microorganism, again using army volunteers; for the first time a virus was deduced as the cause of a specific human disease ( had already shown that foot-and-mouth disease in cattle is a viral disease). Reed’s work was quickly followed by vigorous attacks, by drainage or addition of kerosene, on the mosquito’s breeding places; one notable success, that of W C Gorgas (1854–1920) in Panama, proved to be a major factor in the completion of the Canal there. Since 1937 a vaccine has been available, due to , and a large measure of control has been achieved; but in Africa especially, jungle yellow fever (which is transmitted by a variety of mosquito vectors) remains a major problem, with mass vaccination as the preferred public health strategy. Although urban yellow fever and jungle yellow fever are often referred to as two forms, the virus is the same in both; but the cycle of transmission is different and the jungle form is sporadic in man, while the urban form occurs as an epidemic.

Reese, Della (1931–) [next] [back] Redstone, Sumner M. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Sumner M. Redstone

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