For more than 25 years, microbiologist Linda Saif quietly worked in one of medicine's less fashionable areas—the infectious diseases of farm animals. Then people in Hong Kong started dying from a mystery illness called SARS, and Dr. Saif's singular expertise proved suddenly invaluable.
SARS was triggered by a coronavirus, a type of bug that usually causes only cold symptoms in humans but can be deadly in animals. As one of the world's leading authorities on animal coronaviruses, Dr. Saif and her Ohio State University animal-virus lab suddenly found themselves at ground zero in the battle for lives. Dr. Saif herself acted as a lead consultant to the World Health Organization, and her lab became part of an international network of labs organized to fight the disease.
More than 900 died in the epidemic, but it could have been worse. "A lot of people said, years ago, that we were on the verge of conquering infectious disease, but now we can see that emerging diseases are coming at us at a fast and furious rate," Dr. Saif says. "Our only hope is doing more research."
*The name of this award was originally the Impact Award. In 2008, the awards were renamed as the Inspire Awards.
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