In 1898 Theodore Roosevelt was a colonel in the war. He probably saved the lives of many men by getting them out of Cuba before they caught yellow fever. Image courtesy of the US Library of Congress.
In 1898 Theodore Roosevelt was a colonel in the Spanish – American war. He probably saved the lives of many men by getting them out of Cuba before they caught yellow fever. Image courtesy of the US Library of Congress.

Post War Fever Fears

Future President Theodore Roosevelt, then a colonel of cavalry, felt the same. Shortly after fighting ended on July 17, Roosevelt took the initiative to write a letter to Shafter requesting his troops be returned to the states before they fell victim to yellow fever. It was co-signed by seven generals under Shafter’s command. The letter resulted in the bulk of the American combat force being returned to the United States. They were replaced by occupation troops who would suffer the greatest impact of vomito negro.

For the next two years, the occupation troops suffered miserably from yellow fever. By 1900, 13 men had died from yellow fever for every soldier who died in combat. Army Surgeon General George Sternberg formed a special commission with the mission to determine yellow fever’s cause and how to prevent it.

Lead by the brilliant army physician, Major Walter Reed, the commission used revolutionary and, at times, controversial research methods to prove yellow fever was spread through mosquito bites. Reed’s research led to the development of mosquito eradication programs.

By the mid-20th century, yellow fever was no longer the scourge of the battlefield, but even today it remains a deadly disease for which there is no cure. The World Health Organization estimates that 200,000 cases occur worldwide each year.

Resources

Cowdrey, A. E. Fighting for Life: American Military Medicine in World War II. (1994). New York, NY: The Free Press.

Hall, M. R. Walter Reed. (2009). In S. C. Tucker (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Spanish American and Philippine American Wars. Santa Barabara, CA: ABC-CLIO LLC.

Lederer, S. E. Walter Reed and the Yellow Fever Experiments. (2008). In E. Emmanuel, C. Grady, R. Crouch, R. Lie, F. Miller, & D. Wendler (Eds.), Textbook of Clinical Research Ethics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Mehra, A. Politics of Participation: Walter Reed’s Yellow Fever Experiments. (2009, April). American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 11(4), 326:330. Accessed June 01, 2013.

Millet, A. R., and Maslowski, P. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. (1984). New York, NY: The Free Press.

Roosevelt, T. The Rough Riders. (1899). New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Publishing.

Smart, C. Handbook for the Hospital Corps of the U.S. Army and State Military Forces. (1902). New York, NY: William Wood and Co.

Staples, J. E., and Monath, T. P. The Etiology of Yellow Fever: An Additional Note. (2008, August). Journal of the American Medical Association.

World Health Organization. Yellow Fever. (May 2013). Fact Sheet No. 100. Accessed June 01, 2013.