Smadel, Joseph

Joseph E. Smadel

National Institutes of Health

For contributions to the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of rickettsial diseases, including the demonstration of chloramphenicol as a cure for typhoid fever and scrub typhus.

Dr. Smadel is one of the outstanding scientists of this generation, a tireless investigator, creative and critical thinker, and an inspiring leader. Because of his work, tens of thousands of people throughout the world have been cured of typhoid fever, plague, psittacosis and the rickettsial diseases such as scrub typhus, epidemic typhus fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These diseases, which have ravaged people and armies throughout medical history, have now been brought under control by Dr. Smadel and his colleagues.

Dr. Smadel was the first to demonstrate the use of the antibiotic chloramphenicol, which is life-saving against these diseases. Before the discovery in 1948 of the use of chloramphenicol in the treatment of typhoid fever, about 12 percent of all those who contracted the disease died of it. Through its use, such fatalities have now been cut to about 2 to 3 percent.

With the international spotlight now focused on Southeast Asia, Dr. Smadel’s contributions have been especially timely and important to the health of the people in this area, and to the health of our own personnel and the military who serve our nation in Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and other parts of the Far East, where these diseases are prevalent.

Through Dr. Smadel’s current efforts, an entirely new chapter in the history of cholera is being written. He is at present engaged in a direct attack on the bacterial organism which causes this disease, and is experimenting with improved methods for the treatment and control of cholera and its eventual eradication.

Dr. Smadel is also a rare and inspired teacher who sparks the excitement of medical achievement in other men. He has a sense of devotion to seeking out the truth that few people possess. This has often led to instances of personal hazard that have been taken in stride as though meaningless, but by so doing, he has continuously set an example for others.

A versatile scientist and a devoted public servant, he has not only contributed significantly to fundamental advances in microbiology, but also in an outstanding degree to the improvement of public health in this country and throughout the world.