Jordi Casals-Ariet

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 15 April 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:959

Epidemiologist who discovered the Lassa fever virus—and nearly died from it

Jordi Casals-Ariet, an epidemiologist and virologist, was hailed by scientists around the world when he discovered the virus that causes Lassa fever. He was nearly killed by the disease in 1969 while working with the virus in his Yale laboratory. In a high-stakes gamble and with no known treatment, his doctors decided to transfuse him with blood from a nurse who had survived Lassa fever. The blood saved his life.

But colleagues say that Dr Casals' contributions are far greater than his discovery of the Lassa fever virus. “He did a yeoman's work in establishing useful methods of classifying viruses,” said Dr Gregory Tignor, professor emeritus at Yale, who worked with Dr Casals.

Little was known about many viruses when Dr Casals started his work at Yale. “Everybody has forgotten how bad it was back then,” said Dr Tignor. “People didn't know what was causing encephalitis. We …

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