In December of 1943, typhus was rampant in Naples and its environs. The Allied Armed Forces, the Rockefeller Foundations, and Italian civilian groups banded together to combat the epidemic. Reno Rosi from the 12th General Hospital Unit was one of the few American soldiers assigned to direct Italian civilian personnel in establishing DDT dusting stations due to his ability to speak Italian fluently. After rounding the wards of the Contigno Hospital where they gained experience in diagnosing the disease, Rosi and his Italian-speaking cohort joined one of the eight teams that also consisted of an Italian nurse, duster, and chauffeur to first locate those with typhus to be sent to the an Italian contagious disease hospital and then later dust those who may have come in contact with this individual with DDT. Rosi later recalled the thousands of malnourished, unclean Italians huddled in bomb shelters clamoring for the “magic louse-killing powder.” The success of the Typhus Commission depended largely on the integration of the case finding group with the mass delousing group, special immunization squads that sought to spray those who most likely would have come in contact with cases and could potentially spread the virus to other areas like priests and laborers, and the refugee control group whose goal was to arrest the transmission of typhus among the refugees breaking though the front lines, particularly those from Yugoslavia. With the mission to subdue the epidemic becoming of a priority, other members of the 12th General Hospital Unit, which included: Richard Young, James Conner, Ralph Elliott, Ernest McEwen, Norris Binding, Frederick Hoebel, John Mohardt, and Orion Stuteville were ordered to assist in different capacities. The effort to suppress the typhus outbreak in Naples during the winter of 1943-1944 was the first time in history when mankind prevailed over the virus.
Headquarters of the Typhus Commission
Refugee compound dusting station
Malaria Control Demonstration Unit
While stationed in Naples, several members of the 12th General Hospital Unit were part of setting up the Malaria Control Service for the Allied Central Commission in Italy under Paul F. Russell, who was a renowned specialist on malaria and other tropical diseases. This group, partially supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, was charged with developing methods for applying DDT in both its spray and powder forms. It also conducted several long-term experiments on how best to target the adult and larval mosquito populations in a variety of settings.