Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing

Overview




Red oozes from the patient's gums.  He has a rushing headache and the whites of his eyes look like lemons.  His tongue may soon turn black.  He will likely die within days.
 
Here is the true story of how four Americans and one Cuban tracked down a killer, one of the word's most vicious plagues: yellow fever.  Set in fever-stricken Cuba, the reader feels the heavy air, smell the stench of disease, hear the ...
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The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing

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Overview




Red oozes from the patient's gums.  He has a rushing headache and the whites of his eyes look like lemons.  His tongue may soon turn black.  He will likely die within days.
 
Here is the true story of how four Americans and one Cuban tracked down a killer, one of the word's most vicious plagues: yellow fever.  Set in fever-stricken Cuba, the reader feels the heavy air, smell the stench of disease, hear the whine of mosquitoes biting human volunteers during the surreal experiments. Exploring themes of courage, cooperation, and the ethics of human experimentation, this gripping account is ultimately a story of the triumph of science.       
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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
The cause for Yellow Fever had to be found. Many U.S. soldiers were stationed in Cuba during the Spanish-American War where the disease was rampant. Four Army doctors were sent to Cuba. They worked with a Cuban doctor who suspected that mosquitoes were to blame, but this seemed like an outlandish idea and other theories were explored first. Once the testing with mosquitoes began, the doctors recruited brave young men as volunteers and the mystery was solved. Each chapter begins with a date spanning in time from June 1900 to December 1900. An epilogue provides information about ways that Yellow Fever has been fought and eradicated from most of the world. The conversational tone of the text and photographs of the men, some of the significant sites, and original documents make this a good choice for young researchers. Includes brief information about the doctors and the American and Spanish volunteers, a glossary of scientific terms, chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
VOYA - Kelly Czarnecki
This fast-paced account follows four scientists who were given the task of going to Cuba to find the cause of yellow fever in 1900. The backdrop of the Spanish-American War paints the picture of the scientists' mission's importance as the statistics of infected soldiers rose each day. Black-and-white photos of yellow fever patients in hospitals, the makeshift camp set up to test the mosquito theory, fever charts, and copies of letters—including one where volunteers were asked for their consent to be experimented on in order to find out what was causing yellow fever—are included. Graphic descriptions—Was there liquid blood in parts of the digestive tract? Partially digested blood that looked like coffee grounds inside the stomach?—will probably keep most young readers enthralled. Drawings of mosquitoes throughout the book do not leave much to the imagination about the cause of yellow fever although the pacing of the experiments and theories follow an appropriate tempo to keep readers interested. Short biographies on the volunteers who loaned themselves to experimentation follow the epilogue. Details from the scientists' lives, such as the letters they wrote home to their families and their reactions to the sometimes tedious nature of their work, help keep them accessible to readers possibly considering a similar profession. This book lends itself well to understanding the testing of and experimenting of hypotheses. Reviewer: Kelly Czarnecki
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—This medical mystery is extremely interesting, easy to read, and well illustrated with period photos. It's the story of Walter Reed and his team of U.S. Army doctors who went to Cuba in 1900 to study yellow fever and determine how it was spread. It was important in light of the United States's involvement in a war with Spain for Cuba's freedom and for future developments in South America. Yellow fever outbreaks, such as the one in Philadelphia in 1793, had long plagued America and her neighbors to the south, but despite advances in bacteriology, no progress had been made in discovering how the disease was spread. Jurmain explains Reed's approach to the scientific problem and how it changed over time as more was learned. The individual doctors and volunteers involved are brought to life by the author's use of primary sources such as letters, reports, etc. How the team eventually discovered and then verified that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes was a combination of luck, good scientific practices, and careful note keeping. Young people interested in medicine or scientific discovery will find this book engrossing, as will history students. End matter includes short biographical sketches of all the volunteers who took part in the experiments, at great risk to their own lives. Exemplary nonfiction.—Robin Henry, Wakeland High School, Frisco, TX
Kirkus Reviews
With plenty of gory details, Jurmain recounts the six months in 1900 when Dr. Walter Reed and his team of doctors in Cuba determined that mosquitoes carry yellow fever. Dangerous experiments helped them narrow their focus and eliminate other theories about the disease's origin, but at the cost of the one young doctor's death. Even reluctant readers will respond to the gruesome descriptions of the disease and of brave volunteers who wore blood-and-vomit-covered clothing in 100-degree heat to see if yellow fever could be passed on through cloth (it can't). Quotations from the doctors' letters and later accounts by other participants gives the story an immediacy heightened by conversational writing full of questions and cliffhangers. Almost every double-page spread features a black-and-white photograph of the players, their equipment or artifacts, with little photos of mosquitoes scattered throughout. Match this with Fever, 1793 (2000), by Laurie Halse Anderson, and An American Plague (2003), by Jim Murphy, both recommended as "Further Reading," to complete this powerful exploration of a disease that killed 100,000 U.S. citizens in the 1800s. (appendix, glossary, endnotes, bibliography, index [not seen]) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)
From the Publisher
"With plenty of gory details . . .  Even reluctant readers will respond to the gruesome descriptions of the disease and of brave volunteers . . . Quotations from the doctors’ letters and later accounts by other participants gives the story an immediacy heightened by conversational writing full of questions and cliffhangers . . .  powerful exploration of a disease that killed 100,000 U.S. citizens in the 1800s."—Kirkus Reviews
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780544106499
  • Publisher: Sandpiper Paperbacks
  • Publication date: 9/28/2013
  • Pages: 104

Meet the Author

To research this book, Suzanne Jurmain used primary sources of memoirs, medical log books and documents from the doctors who were actually involved in the conquest of yellow fever. She lives with her husband in Los Angeles and has two adult children - and one large golden retriever.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Lynn Crow for TeensReadToo.com

    Just over one hundred years ago, a disease called yellow fever periodically ravaged cities in both the United States and Cuba. But despite the best efforts of doctors and scientists, no one had discovered the source of the devastating illness, or the cure. Determined to put a stop to the outbreaks and save future generations from harm, a team of army doctors set out for Cuba to face the disease head on.

    Working with a Cuba physician, this team conducted experiments on human subjects, so devoted to their cause they included themselves in some. Even when the results suggested their best guesses were wrong, they pushed forward. One doctor eventually gave his life to the fever, but not before he'd started the rest of the team down the right path, to finally determine the cause of the illness and eliminate it.

    THE SECRET OF THE YELLOW DEATH tells the story of those doctors in a straight-forward narrative style that will appeal even to readers who are not generally fond of non-fiction. The urgent need to understand the disease, and the risks the team and their volunteers take to gain that understanding, make the book at times as suspenseful as any work of fiction. Jurmain also clearly explains the scientific facts, and includes many photographs and illustrations to bring this time in history to life.

    Recommended to anyone interested in science and medical mysteries.

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