University of Leicester eBulletin

University of Leicester Expert Investigates Mystery Illness

March 2003

An authority on communicable diseases, particularly flu, at the University of Leicester has been called up at urgent notice to join an international health team investigating a mystery pneumonia-like illness.

Professor Karl Nicholson of the University of Leicester Department of Microbiology and Immunology is in Hanoi where he is assisting with top professionals in identifying and combating the highly infectious disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a rare emergency warning over the weekend, declaring the sickness "a worldwide health threat", and saying that cases had been reported on three continents.

Professor Nicholson, who is also a Consultant Physician and Microbiologist with the University of Leicester-University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Health Trust’s Institute for Lung Health, has expertise in influenza virus infections, the role of vaccination against influenza virus and specific anti-viral therapies.

[Photo: Professor Karl Nicholson]
Professor Karl Nicholson

He said: “I was called by WHO Geneva Global Alert and Response Unit last week on Tuesday evening at around 7pm and found myself on a plane to Geneva the next morning, and on to Hanoi shortly afterwards.

“A Group of five WHO Consultants are currently assisting WHO here in Hanoi - myself from the UK, another Infectious Diseases expert from Sweden, a German, a person from Atlanta and the team leader from Australia. We are working together with other people from the US Centers for Disease Control.

“Our principal goal at the moment is to contain the disease.”

Amongst Professor Nicholson’s many publications is The Textbook of Influenza which he co-edited. This contains details of the genetic and molecular functions of the flu virus relevant to research scientists, and has epidemiological material to interest the public health professionals. Clinical aspects of the disease gain particular attention. No such publication currently exists and with its worldwide perspective on the problem of influenza.

More details on the illness can be found on the WHO website:

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Information supplied by: Barbara Whiteman
Last updated: March 2003
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