The Cuban Connection and Yellow Fever

The Cuban Connection and Yellow Fever

The convergence of the Spanish-American War, mosquitoes, and Dr. William Gorgas in Cuba could be credited with American success in the Panama Canal.  The American “pacification” of Cuba after the war placed American troops (and of course Cuban civilians) in more danger from yellow fever than from military action.  Dr. Gorgas, who had survived the fever and was therefore immune and already known as an expert on that subject, was posted to Cuba.  His wife, also a survivor, accompanied him.  In fact, their simultaneous convalescence at at army post in Texas  had resulted in their courtship and marriage.

William Gorgas
William Gorgas

Dr. Gorgas arrived in Cuba believing, as did almost everyone, that the yellow fever was a contagious disease related to filth.  The mosquito theory was proven by Dr. Carlos Findlay and Major Walter Reed.  They set up a cabin, half protected by mosquito netting but furnished with unmentionably contaminated bedding, clothing, and dishes, and the other half thoroughly sanitized but open to mosquitoes.  The volunteers living in filth stayed well.  The ones subjected to mosquitoes who had bitten yellow fever patients sickened.  Dr. Gorgas, chief sanitary officer for Havana, directed a mosquito abatement campaign which essentially eliminated yellow fever in 1901.

Dr. Gorgas was promoted to colonel in 1903, arrived in the Canal Zone in June 1904, and by the end of 1905, in spite of more complicated procedures and administrative obstruction (The supplies he required were thought “too expensive.”) yellow fever had been eradicated in the Panama Canal Zone.

It is unlikely the Panama Canal project would have succeeded if it were not for Dr. Gorgas, and, although it is not of significant historical interest, I doubt that, had yellow fever been an issue in 1907, the Hobby relatives would chosen Cuba as a vacation and reunion location.

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