In Memoriam: Renowned Yale Expert on Fever and Infection, Elisha Atkins

Elisha Atkins, M.D., professor emeritus of internal medicine/infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine, and an expert in the mechanism and biological importance of fever, died April 22 at age 84 in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Atkins’s research on the physiology of fever and the findings of endogenous pyrogen (a bacterial toxin that can cause fever) was not limited to defining the relevant molecules. Working with fellow Yale researcher Phyllis Bodel, he demonstrated the close relationship between the induction of fever and the ability to resist infection. He was author on numerous scientific research articles on fever and infection. He studied fevers related to staphylococcal infections and the biology of inflammation and tuberculin fever, which he continued to investigate through animal studies.

While noted for his role as a researcher, Atkins was also a clinician, teacher and administrator. He served on the School of Medicine’s admissions committee for many years and was an Acting Associate Dean for one year. He pursued his interest in the liberal arts and in undergraduates by serving as master of Saybrook College, one of Yale’s undergraduate residential colleges, from 1975 to 1985.

Atkins received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1942 and his medical degree from the University of Rochester in 1950. He joined the Marines after graduating from Harvard and served in the South Pacific. While covering the retreat of his platoon and standing nearly waist deep in water, he was wounded in the battle of Cape Gloucester, New Britain Island (now part of Papua, New Guinea).

Before joining the Yale faculty as an assistant professor in medicine in 1955, Atkins was a research fellow and instructor in medicine at Washington University, a fellow in medicine at Barnes Hospital, and a visiting physician at St. Louis City Hospital. While on leave from Yale in 1962, Atkins was a Commonwealth Fellow in the laboratory of Sir George Pickering at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, England.

Born in Belmont, Mass., Atkins was an avid birder and was well read in the humanities. After his retirement from Yale, he and his wife returned to the family property in Belmont and created an educational nature sanctuary called Habitat, at which they worked for years before donating it to the Audubon Society.

Atkins is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; daughters, Ruth and Natasha Atkins; sons, Elisha, Warwick and David; and 10 grandchildren.

Donations in Atkins’ memory can be made to: The Habitat Education Center, 10 Juniper Road, Belmont, Mass. 02478.

Memorial services are planned at the Nature Center and in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

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