IDWeek: From the start of a specialist society to the next pandemic, a focus on infections makes all the difference

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Science Speaks is at IDWeek 2019 Oct. 2-6, covering the joint annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the HIV Medical Association, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON, DC – In 1963, when a small group of doctors got together to talk about building infectious disease expertise with a professional organization, Dr. Ed Kass chose the role of meeting secretary.

You can make sure things get done when you’re the secretary, he explained.

In the Edward H. Kass lecture this morning, Dr. Herbert DuPont of the Utah School of Public Health told the story of some of  what his friend, a founding member and president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, founder of the Journal of Infectious Diseases, and builder of bridges to global infectious disease research got done.

At that first meeting, Dr. DuPont said, some disagreed with the idea of setting infectious diseases experts apart from the rest of the medical field with an organization. “It will be the death of general medicine,” Dr. DuPont recounted their argument. They changed their minds over the years that followed, as membership grew from the 125 physicians who attended a first meeting in Virginia to 977 in 1978 to more than 3,400 in 1990, when Dr. Kass died, to  more than 11,000 today. Along the way Dr. Kass took IDSA members with him to teach infectious research skills in other countries, Dr. Herbert said, recalling a trip he joined to China. Representatives of 90 countries are here for this IDWeek

The years since have validated the decision to build infectious disease expertise in another way, Dr. DuPont said. Since the 1950s, he noted, three to four new RNA viruses — viruses with ribonucleic acid as their genetic material — have emerged. They have included include Ebola virus disease, SARS, rabies, common cold, influenza, hepatitis C, hepatitis E, West Nile fever, polio and measles, Zika and HIV.

“New RNA viruses, particularly influenza, will continue to cause pandemics,” Dr. DuPont said. “And we must be prepared to deal with them.”

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