The Flu Hunter

Michael Rosenwald in Smithsonian Magazine:

Nm12031445i1_1Robert Webster is the world’s preeminent expert on avian influenza. A virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, he helped create the first widespread commercial flu vaccine decades ago. It was Webster who discovered that birds were likely responsible for past flu pandemics, including the one in Asia in 1957 that killed about two million people. Perhaps Webster’s greatest contribution to science is the idea that global influenza epidemics begin when avian and human flu viruses combine to form a new strain, one that people lack the ability to fight off.

For all those reasons, Webster is in great demand as governments worldwide try to stave off a possible epidemic of influenza, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the great pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed at least 40 million people. Smithsonian dispatched Michael Rosenwald to catch up with Webster and report on the scientist whom one expert has called an “international treasure.”

More here.