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A life among the viruses

A life among the viruses

Jordi Casals-Ariet spent his life studying and categorizing viruses, and in 1969 his search for the agent behind the mysterious Lassa fever almost killed him. But his near-lethal infection paved the way for improvements in lab safety.

When virologist Jordi Casals-Ariet, M.D., died last February at age 92, his obituaries highlighted two salient facets of his life; the system he designed for classifying the viruses that he spent his life studying, and how one of those viruses almost killed him in 1969.The virus first appeared that same year in three missionary nurses in Nigeria—a mysterious fever killed two of them in days. Casals-Ariet’s laboratory at the School of Public Health seemed the logical place to study samples of the nurses’ blood containing the virus. The Yale Arbovirus Research Unit (YARU) held the world’s most extensive collection of arboviruses, which are spread by blood-sucking insects, and the presence of leading virologists...

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