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June 28, 2006

Dr Osler's Relapsing Fever

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Center for the History of Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor.

JAMA. 2006;295(24):2886-2887. doi:10.1001/jama.295.24.2886

Minutes before noon on October 7, 1896, the medical students hurriedly took their seats in a spanking-new, cherrywood-paneled amphitheater charged with the energy of youthful excitement and professional ambition.1 The topic to be discussed was fever, a vital sign that had vexed and fascinated physicians since the dawn of recorded medical history.

These physicians-to-be represented America’s, indeed the world’s, best and brightest hopes for a healthy future. Their medical school, Johns Hopkins (named for the dyspeptic, cranky, but decidedly wealthy Quaker merchant who endowed it), had only opened its doors 3 years earlier in provincial Baltimore, Maryland. But it had immediately assumed the vanguard of fin de siècle Western medicine as the profession leaped from blind allegiance to centuries-old, not infrequently toxic, medications and heroic surgical measures to the laboratory-based enterprise that characterizes modern medical practice.2