There was a time when every school child could recite the tale of how Maj. Walter Reed proved the Cuban physician Carlos Finlay’s theory that mosquitoes transmitted yellow fever to human beings.

From colonial days to the late 19th century, yellow fever plagued much of the United States. These epidemics were horrific events heralded by undertakers wheeling out large wagons in the streets, shouting, “Bring Out Your Dead!” But yellow fever was hardly unique to the United States. The virus causing it, flativirus, thrives and infects wherever the Aedes aegypti mosquito (and a few of its relatives) propagate and where swampy land abounds, including South and North America, Africa, southern Europe and much of Africa.

The Panama Canal, one of humankind’s greatest feats of engineering, could not have been completed if yellow fever was not outwitted first.

For some, a bout with yellow fever is simply a self-limiting one of aches, pains, loss of appetite, headaches and fever. But in more severe cases (about 15 percent) it can cause abdominal pain, extensive liver damage, jaundice or yellow skin, bleeding, kidney damage and even death.

Born on this day in 1851 in rural Virginia, Walter Reed was educated at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he received his first medical degree in 1869 at the age of 17, and the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City, where he earned a second medical degree in 1870. After interning at the Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and a stint with the Brooklyn Health Department, he married Emilie Lawrence in 1876. Only a year earlier, he sat for a grueling examination that allowed him to join the Medical Department of the U.S. Army at the rank of first lieutenant.

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Source:: PBS NewsHour – Health

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