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.
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