Conquering Staphylococcus: A Triumph of Medical Innovation by Charles Rammelkamp



Charles Rammelkamp : (May 24,1911 – December 5, 1981). American internist and epidemiologist.  Staphylococcus is a genus of bacteria which identified By Charles Rammelkamp responsible for causing rheumatic fever, a serious inflammatory condition that can affect the heart, joints, skin, and brain. He made significant discoveries in the field of medicine, particularly in understanding the causes of rheumatic fever and acute nephritis.


Staphylococcus is a genus of bacteria that includes several species commonly found on the skin and in the respiratory tract of humans and animals. While many strains are harmless, some can cause infections ranging from mild skin infections to life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia and bloodstream infections.

Charles Rammelkamp

Additionally, Rammelkamp pinpointed the specific strain of streptococcus bacteria that leads to acute nephritis, a kidney disease characterized by inflammation of the kidneys. These findings have contributed greatly to our understanding of these diseases and have paved the way for advancements in their diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.  His early studies included the use of tyrothricin in the treatment of experimental infections in animals and localized infections in humans. At the same time he began studies of the group A streptococcus, employing the agglutination technique for the typing of these organisms.

Early life and education

Charles Rammelkamp graduated from Illinois College with an A.B. degree in 1933 and obtained his M.D. from the University of Chicago in 1937. His graduate training in medicine and research involved stints at several prestigious universities including Chicago, Washington, Harvard, and Boston. He joined the staff of Western Reserve University in 1946. By 1950, he had advanced to the positions of professor of medicine and professor of preventive medicine at the institution. He was also director of medicine and research at the Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital and visiting lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Professional Life

In 1943 Rammelkamp was appointed to the Commission on Acute Respiratory Diseases at Fort Bragg, NC, under the direction of John Dingle. There he developed a broad interest in various respiratory infections. His major efforts were directed toward the study of exudative tonsillitis and pharyngitis, both from the clinical and laboratory aspects. Nonstreptococcal exudative tonsillitis was defined, and from the data it became apparent that it was caused by a virus. Laboratory studies conducted with Melvin Kaplan involved primarily the investigation of streptokinase. Other major studies included transmission of atypical pneumonia in volunteers and a study of Q fever in military personnel. During World War 2 he was a member of the Army’s commission on acute respiratory diseases.

Studies on the staphylococcus

In 1946 Rammelkamp joined the staff at the Western Reserve University School of Medicine in the department of preventive medicine, working with Dingle. During the next few years he participated in the study of a group of Cleveland families, defining the various diseases encountered in the family group. He began studies on the staphylococcus, which included definition of three separate coagulase that proved to be antigenically distinct. During this period the theory was developed and subsequently proved that acute glomerulonephritis is caused by a limited number of types of group A streptococci, thus explaining many of the epidemiological differences between nephritis and acute rheumatic fever.

In 1949 Rammelkamp became director of the Streptococcal Disease Laboratory at Warren Air Force Base, WY. The staff made many major contributions to the epidemiology of streptococcal infections and rheumatic fever. Perhaps of most importance were the studies on the prevention of streptococcal infections, rheumatic fever, and acute glomerulonephritis. Many present treatment and prevention programs are based on these studies.

From 1956 Rammelkamp’s investigative interests were devoted to study of the mode of transmission of staphylococcal infections. With E. Wolinsky and E. Mortimer, he demonstrated that these infections are spread primarily by the hands of personnel in the hospital. With P. Hall, R. Griggs, and J. Gaon, he instituted in 1961 an intensive study of Balkan nephropathy in Yugoslavia. This apparently new disease involving thousands is limited to villages along various tributaries of the Danube River, and the cause has not been elucidated as yet. Finally, Rammelkamp became interested in medical education and in the problems of delivering good medical care within a country hospital complex.


Staphylococcus discovery is the prime work of Charles Rammenlkamp. Charles Rammelkamp received several honors throughout his career, including honorary degrees from Illinois College and Northwestern University, the Alvarenga Prize of Philadelphia, the first Research Achievement Award of the American Heart Association, the Bruce Medal in Preventive Medicine of the American College of Physicians, and the Bristol Award of the Infectious Disease Society of America. He was also a member of prestigious organizations such as the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1954 the staff members received a Lasker Award of the American Public Health Association for their contributions in this area.

Rammelkamp married Helen Chisholm and had 3 children: Charles H., III, Colin C., and Anne R. (Davies). He died in Cleveland.

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