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History of Medicine |

Plague in San Francisco in 1900: The United States Marine Hospital Service Commission To Study the Existence of Plague in San Francisco

LOREN GEORGE LIPSON, M.D.
[+] Article and Author Information

▸Requests for reprints should be addressed to Loren G. Lipson, M.D., Laboratory of Chemical Biology, National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, Bldg. 10, Rm. 9N-317, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md. 20014.


Baltimore, Maryland


Ann Intern Med. 1972;77(2):303-310. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-77-2-303
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Bubonic plague, the feared Black Death of the Middle Ages, probably came to the United States in 1900 by way of the port of San Francisco. The controversy that ensued concerning the actual existence of this disease led to one of the most scandalous episodes in the history of American public health and involved everyone from the President of the United States to the individual resident of San Francisco. The incident necessitated the formation of a special commission to ascertain if plague existed and brought out racial prejudice in high government office. It placed the state governor and special interest groups against the public health authorities. The initial failure to take action against the plague may have led to dissemination of this disease in the West. Out of this episode came a strong state department of public health and an increased public awareness of the dangers of communicable diseases.

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hospitals ; plague

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