Walter was born in Virginia in 1851. He was the youngest ever student to receive an M.D. from the University of Virginia. He was 18. Because of his young age, he encountered problems in gaining acceptance as a doctor. He decided to join the Army Medical Corps.

For the first 16 years as an Army doctor, he rotated during different posts. Part of his service included medical care for Native Americans. It was during this time that he saw the impact sanitary conditions would have on medical care. He decided to study further at John Hopkins to understand the epidemic’s spread.

Walter began to become a medical investigator. He gained renown for his investigations into the causes of yellow fever and typhoid fever. A Cuban medical scientist, Carlos Finlay, had identified a species of mosquito that caused yellow fever. Unfortunately, the doctor’s discovery was not accepted.

Walter helped confirm the mosquito was in fact the cause of yellow fever. Human volunteers in the military agreed to be bitten by mosquitos infected with yellow fever. Once the mosquitos were identified as the cause of yellow fever, eradication efforts were used to limit the spread of yellow fever. Without this discovery, the Panama Canal would have been greatly delayed.

Walter’s work in yellow fever research was considered to be pioneering work in biomedicine. Walter was recognized with the naming of a military hospital. Walter Reed Hospital has gained prominence for its treatment of U.S. Presidents. For all of his advances in medicine, it is ironic that Walter died of a ruptured appendix at the age of 51.

Some beginnings involve multiple stages. In the case of the identification of the causes of yellow fever, the beginning of the field of epidemiology was based upon theory, testing, and validation. Two doctors were largely responsible for the discovery of the cause of yellow fever. One of those doctors then expanded upon their experience with yellow fever to find a new field of medical study.

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“The entire world has benefited and prospered since the decisive defeat of Yellow Fever, an unconventional and far-reaching military victory derived from the field medical discoveries of U.S. Army Major Dr. Walter Reed, designed and carried out by U.S. Army Major Dr. William Gorgas with the overall support under the command of U.S. Army General Leonard Wood.”― T.K. Naliaka (Author)

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