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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Yellow Fever

I'm sure the name Clara Maass doesn't mean anything to most people, but, Clara's story is one that should be better known.

Clara Maass was born on this day in 1876 in New Jersey. She died a short 25 years later after courageously volunteering to help discover the cause of yellow fever.

The American Nursing Association provides this short biography of Maass:

One of the nation's most courageous nurses, Clara Louise Maass lost her life during scientific studies to determine the cause of yellow fever. A graduate of Newark German Hospital Training School for Nurses, she worked as an Army nurse in Florida, Cuba, and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

In 1900, Maass returned to Cuba at the request of Maj. William Gorgas, chief sanitation officer. There she became embroiled in a controversy over the cause of yellow fever. To determine whether the tropical fever was caused by city filth or the bite of a mosquito, seven volunteers, including Maass, were bitten by the mosquitoes. Two men died, but she survived. Several months later she again volunteered to be bitten, this time suffering severe pain and fever. Maass died of yellow fever at the age of 25. In her memory, Newark German Hospital was renamed Clara Maass Memorial Hospital and in 1952, Cuba issued a national postage stamp in her name. In 1976, the U.S. Postal Service honored Clara Louise Maass with a commemorative stamp.

The cause of disease, a virus, is spread by the bite of female mosquitoes. A vaccination was developed and the disease can now be controlled. Unfortunately, in areas of the world where healthcare is lacking, yellow fever is still responsible for thousands of deaths each year.

To learn more about yellow fever and the search for its cause, look for The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing by Suzanne Jurmain [J 614.541 JUR].

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