SARS Epidemic is Not the Last Emerging Disease that Will Threaten World Health

    Emerging infectious diseases will continue to threaten humanity, but the challenge can be met in part with old-fashioned public health.

    Robert Webster, PhD, world-renowned virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was one of three international experts invited by Chinese Health Officials to a summit on emerging infectious diseases. Webster warns that the SARS pandemic is only one of an ongoing series of such threats to public health that the world can expect to face in the coming years.

    Robert Webster, PhD, chief virologist at St. Jude, held a press conference upon his return from Hong Kong.

    In addition to Webster, the other experts who met in Hong Kong were David Ho, Ph.D., Director of Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City, and Jeffrey Koplan, M.D., former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The Hong Kong meeting came at a time when another emerging infection killed a man in Europe, but was quickly identified because of the availability of laboratory facilities equipped to identify such unknown viruses, according to Webster. The virus had jumped from birds to humans and was also found in pigs. Pigs often serve as mixing bowls for viral genes that pick up new and often dangerous traits before moving on to humans.

    Webster is an author of a recently released report on emerging infectious diseases published in the United States by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Webster notes that the collapse of the public health infrastructures of the US and Asia has significantly compromised the ability to respond in a timely manner to emerging infections.

    Malik Peiris, MD, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, recently identified the SARS virus.

    “The isolation of the SARS virus was a major achievement made possible by the infrastructure put in place by the National Institutes of Health through St. Jude in Hong Kong,” Webster said.


    Dr. Webster, world-renowned virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, has been interviewed about the threat of infectious diseases by top news organizations around the country.

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    Last update: April 2003