March 30, 2015

Medical detectives

The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing
by Suzanne Jurmain

Yellow fever was an incurable disease that ravaged American and Cuban communities throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Many U.S. soldiers contracted the disease during and after the Spanish-American war. In May 1900, four American doctors and a Cuban doctor were tasked with finding out the cause of yellow fever and how to prevent it.

Short suspenseful chapters detail the doctors' investigations and experiments as they tested three hypotheses: was yellow fever caused by a bacteria, from contact with infected clothing or bedding, or from the bite of a mosquito? Human volunteers were needed. Each volunteer signed a consent form which described the risks and payments. This was the earliest recorded instance of informed consent and served as a prime example of medical ethics in practice.

Clearly written and well-researched, this is an excellent detective story for middle grade and high school readers.

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