A native of Virginia, Walter Reed (1851–1902) received his medical education at Bellevue Medical School in New York, worked as a district physician in Brooklyn, and then joined the U.S. Army, providing basic medical services in many parts of the frontier West. Attracted by the new science of bacteriology, he was sent by the army to study with William Henry Welch at Johns Hopkins University, and was later appointed professor of bacteriology in the Army Medical School in Washington, DC in 1893. He chaired the U.S. Army typhoid fever commission of 1899, in which he, Victor C. Vaughan, and Edward O. Shakespeare established the importance of the asymptomatic typhoid carrier.
While working on this commission, he was assigned to investigate the high mortality from yellow fever in the U.S. military forces then occupying Havana in the wake of the Spanish-American War. His research there first established that, contrary to the then official position of the Surgeon General's Office, yellow fever was not caused by a gram-negative rod, the Sanarelli bacillus. Following this research, he and his three colleagues on the Yellow Fever Commission, Aristides Agramonte, James Carroll, and Jesse Lazear, undertook to test, in experiments with human volunteers, Carlos Finlay's hypothesis that yellow fever could be transmitted by the bite of the Aedes Aegypti (then known as Stegomyia fasciata or Culex fasciatus) mosquito. A key feature of Reed's experiments was the long interval—about twelve to eighteen days—between the infecting of mosquitoes via their feeding on yellow fever patients and the exposure of human volunteers to the bites of the infected mosquitoes. Reed had been impressed by the observation of U.S. Army surgeon Henry Rose Carter that yellow fever epidemics were characterized by a two-to three-week interval between the first case and the next set of cases. Reed correctly surmised that this represented the period of incubation of the infective agent in the mosquito.
Reed's procedure successfully transmitted yellow fever to several volunteers, confirmed that Aedes Aegypti was the essential vector of the disease, and was followed immediately by a mosquito eradication program led by Major William Gorgas (1854–1920) that virtually eradicated yellow fever in Havana for the first time in recorded history. Gorgas (who attained the rank of Major General during World War I), also led the mosquito eradication program that permitted construction of the Panama Canal. Happily, all of Reed's volunteers recovered from their experimental yellow fever
Kelly, H. A. (1907). Walter Reed and Yellow Fever. New York: McLure, Phillips.