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University of Iowa News Release

May 14, 2003

(Photo: Gregory Gray, M.D., UI professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases)

New Center To Study Emerging Infectious Diseases

The Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, a center recently established in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, will employ the latest laboratory technologies, advanced epidemiological methods and clinical evaluations to better understand emerging infectious diseases.

"Emerging" infectious diseases are those infectious diseases whose incidence in humans has increased during the past two decades or threatens to increase in the near future, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These diseases include West Nile virus infections, tuberculosis, AIDS and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), among many others.

"Despite considerable success in controlling infectious diseases during the 20th century, infectious agents are projected to remain a leading cause of human disease in the 21st century," said Gregory Gray, M.D., UI professor of epidemiology and the center's director. "This is due to several factors, including increased global travel, globalization of the food supply, increased population growth and crowding, increased use of antimicrobial agents, and altered habitats of disease-carrying insects and animals."

Research conducted at the center will include international, national, state and local surveillance for emerging pathogens; risk factor analyses for pathogen infections; vaccine trials; evaluations of rapid diagnostic tests; and outbreak investigations. The center also will recruit and train students for careers in infectious disease epidemiology and public health.

Among the center's current projects are a study of new molecular tests for the diagnosis of agents causing pneumonia, a retrospective study of a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak among Iowa City school district students, surveillance for emerging viral respiratory pathogens in South America, a number of studies of new vaccines, and a study of zoonotic (transmittable between humans and animals) occupational infections among Iowa's meat processing workers.

"It has been estimated that 70 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans are due to bacteria and viruses that normally infect only animals," Gray noted. "Since Iowa leads the nation in egg and swine production and is second in chicken production, this state is an appropriate place to study these diseases."

The center is comprised of leading infectious disease investigators from the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, the UI Hygienic Laboratory, Johnson County Public Health, and the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as researchers from a number of other national and international organizations.

The center's Emerging Pathogens Laboratory, housed at the UI's Oakdale Research Campus, has adapted a number of cutting-edge laboratory techniques to detect emerging pathogens. Assistance in adapting the new techniques has been provided by collaborators at the CDC, the Navy Respiratory Disease Laboratory in San Diego, the Université Laval in Québec, and the California State Laboratory in Richmond, Calif.

More information about the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases can be found online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

CONTACT(S): Media: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647,

PHOTOS: A photo of Greg Gray is available at