Q: We don’t worry about malaria in this country. Should we?
A: We see about 1,500 cases a year here, mostly from tourists who go overseas and bring it back. That’s not a lot of cases. But we can’t let our guard down. If the disease breaks out, we’ll jump on it and control it.
Q: You said malaria was once prevalent in the South. How did we get rid of it?
A: In World War I, 25 percent of the soldiers who went to training camps in the South came down with malaria. We got rid of it by spraying DDT. Without DDT, we couldn’t have done it.
Q: How do we control malaria today?
A: It is a multi-task effort, including insecticide sprays, screens on windows and drugs. We treat people before they have parasites to infect mosquitoes. We drain swamps before mosquitoes can breed.
Q: You have had malaria yourself, right?
A: I caught it twice in the lab and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.
Q: What has your work entailed?
A: In the last 20 to 25 years, I have worked on vaccines. A vaccine is the best way to control any disease. I found a way to test a vaccine for malaria in the laboratory to see if it will work, so we don’t have to test it in people. Making a vaccine against a parasite is extremely difficult.
Q: Why is a vaccine for malaria so difficult?
A: This parasite changes its coat, so to speak. It is very, very variable. In one village, you can find 10 different types of the parasite. You can’t make one vaccine and have it work.
Q: Are vaccines on the horizon?
A: Not on the horizon, but it will happen. I don’t think I’m going to be around but I think we have laid the groundwork.
Q: Don’t you have a parasite named for you?
A: Actually, there are two parasites named for me. I am very pleased that people thought enough of me to do that.
Q: How do you view the mosquito?
A: I don’t hate the mosquito. They are one of God’s creatures and they have their place in the scheme of things. We have to prevent them from doing us harm.
The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at email@example.com.