Fred Soper, epidemiologist, who fought the malaria epidemics
Fred Soper, Epidemiologist

Who can stop an epidemic or a pandemic? Scientists who study public health issues are called epidemiologists, or scientists who study infectious diseases. They study how a disease spreads and how to effectively stop it.
Dr. Fred Soper (1893-1977) was known for his public health work, especially in fighting malaria and yellow fever in Brazil. He was known as the Mosquito Killer.

Soper graduated from the Rush Medical College at the University of Chicago in 1918. In 1920-21, he worked in Brazil to try to eradicate the hookworms epidemic from the general population. Much of the work was public health education campaigns. Essentially rural Brazil had few clean bathrooms, so hookworms were rampant in the soil and easily transmitted to others. He worked with cities and villages to build and maintain clean latrines. This photo shows a young Brazilian boy holding a board displaying all the hookworms removed from his intestines by the doctors of the Rockefeller Institute.

A Brazilian boy holds a board displaying hookworms removed from him. Part of the fight against hookworms epidemic. National Library of Medicine.
A 9-year-old Brazilian boy holds a board displaying hookworms removed from him. National Library of Medicine.

Soper then set to work on the “jungle yellow fever” epidemic and the malaria epidemic, both borne by mosquitoes. He earned a reputation as the “Mosquito Killer” for this work. One of his strongest skills was as an administrator in charge of officials who went out to fight the mosquitoes. They searched for standing water where mosquitoes might breed, and searching rivers and streams for the mosquitoes. While they were concentrating on the Yellow Fever problem, mosquitoes arrived from Africa: Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes, the most efficient malaria vectors, were indigenous to Africa. But in 1930, Raymond Shannon, a Rockefeller Foundation entomologist, discovered that gambiae (apparently recently arrived from Africa) were breeding in Natal, Brazil. Three weeks later, a severe outbreak of malaria was underway there.

The threat was under-estimated and the government didn’t take necessary steps to kill the mosquitoes. It took another 14 years to eradicate the mosquito from Brazil and prevent any more malaria outbreaks.

Here’s an excerpt from Soper’s diary which described a different “silence.” “. . .description of a town in Egypt during that country’s gambiae invasion of 1943–a village in the grip of its own, very different, unnatural silence:

Most houses are without roofs. They are just a square of dirty earth. In those courtyards and behind the doors of these hovels were found whole families lying on the floor; some were just too weakened by illness to get up and others were lying doubled up shaking from head to foot with their teeth chattering and their violently trembling hands trying in vain to draw some dirty rags around them for warmth. They were in the middle of the malaria crisis. There was illness in every house. There was hardly a house which had not had its dead and those who were left were living skeletons, their old clothing in rags, their limbs swollen from undernourishment and too weak to go into the fields to work or even to get food.”

Egypt, 1943. Mosquito inspector checks a puddle for mosquito larvae in fight against malaria epidemic. National Library of Medicine.
Egypt, 1943. Mosquito inspector checks a puddle for mosquito larvae. National Library of Medicine.

MY STEAM NOTEBOOK briefly sets up the stories of ten American scientists, using primary source documents. Fred Soper’s story, diaries, and notebooks is just one of the scientists represented. Kids will learn how to make scientific observations and how to record those observations with text, drawings, descriptive and expository writing, and photography.

See Sample Pages from MY STEAM NOTEBOOK


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