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  The Bright Young Dr. Goldberger

Bored and intellectually restless in private practice in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the young, shy physician joined the United States Marine Hospital Service, (later the U.S. Public Health Service or PHS) in 1899 at the beginning rank of Assistant Surgeon earning an annual salary of $1,600. Ironically, the immigrant from central Europe began his public health service career inspecting immigrants in the port of New York. However, it was not long before his epidemiological skills earned Goldberger the reputation of a tenacious and clever epidemic fighter.

Between 1902 and 1906, Goldberger heroically battled epidemic diseases. He fought yellow fever in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Mississippi, and Louisiana, contracting the disease himself His efforts earned him a promotion to the rank of Passed Assistant Surgeon in 1904 and later, an introduction to Mary Farrar, grandniece of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In 1906, the immigrant Jewish physician from New York's Lower East Side married the daughter of a wealthy and socially prominent Episcopalian attorney from New Orleans over the religious objections of both families.

The young couple from different traditions found common ground in their belief in science, especially medical science as the instrument of improving mankind's lot through relieving suffering. Now assigned to the Hygienic Laboratory in Washington, Joseph Goldberger studied typhoid fever. He was soon sent to Texas after an outbreak of dengue fever. Once again, Goldberger contracted what he studied. The same thing happened a third time when he battled typhus in Mexico.

Goldberger made several important epidemiological discoveries during this period of his career. In 1909, he published his research on Shamberg's disease, an ailment characterized by continuous itching and elaborate skin eruptions similar to those of smallpox. An acarine mite, which infested wheat and secluded itself in the straw mattresses common among poor city-dwellers, proved to be the culprit.

Goldberger also collaborated with Dr. John F. Anderson to show that "Brill's Disease" was identical to typhus. He and  Anderson also made major breakthroughs in  understanding the transmission of typhus and measles. Goldberger was fighting an outbreak of diphtheria in Detroit in 1914 when the surgeon general asked him to turn his attention towards the study of pellagra.

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Mary Farrar Goldberger
Mary Farrar Goldberger
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