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Class Notes May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Malarial Medicine
Joseph M. Vinetz, M.D. '91

   
     


COLORFUL CAREER: Joe Vinetz and friends take a break outside his laboratory in Iquitos, Peru.

Joe Vinetz got hooked on his specialty when he studied microbiology and infectious diseases.

“It was kind of gross with puss and worms and all that,” he says “so, it’s a perfect career.”

Vinetz, a UCSD associate professor of medicine, has become one of a handful of American “malariaologists,” who have extended their research programs to developing countries that suffer from malaria—the second largest killer worldwide. Recently, Vinetz received a $750,000 international research-training grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Fogarty Center for Global Infectious Diseases for a program in the Peruvian Amazon. Epidemic malaria has rapidly emerged in the Peruvian Amazon, increasing 50-fold from 1992 to 1997. Vinetz first visited Peru in 1998 and now spends about two months a year in his state-of-the-art laboratory in Iquitos, where he studies malaria and other infectious diseases with a group of 20 Peruvian researchers and collaborators.

Vinetz first became interested in malaria as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute-NIH Research Scholar in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, where he also discovered an otherwise forgotten infectious disease called leptospirosis in one of his patients. In 1996, the research paper he co-authored describing sporadic urban leptospirosis was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Leptospirosis is transmitted from infected mammals, both wild and domestic, to humans via infected urine. It is primarily an occupational disease that affects farmers, veterinarians and sewer workers and, if left untreated, can cause kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure and respiratory distress. Today, Vinetz continues his studies of leptospirosis, not only in his laboratory at UCSD but also in his field laboratory in the Peruvian Amazon.

It may be a long way from pristine La Jolla to the jungle laboratory in Iquitos, but Vinetz is happy to go where his research leads him.

— Sue Pondrom

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"It was kind of gross with puss and worms and all that,” he says “so, it’s a perfect career."