It's almost a cliche in my field to speak of the "astute clinician" -- the physician of unborrowed vision who sees something amiss to which others are blind. They find the needles in the haystacks, the outliers, the one aberrancy among homogeneity. Behind every outbreak, you will always find one of this rare breed of physician.
Every infectious disease story has a hero like this and there is news today that one of the best recent examples of this pantheon of infectious disease doctors has died: Dr. Deborah Asnis.
While Dr. Asnis might not be known to the general American public, the work she did surely is. Dr. Asinis was the first physician in the US to alert public health authorities that something unusual was happening in Queens in 1999. in particular, Dr. Asnis noted an unusual cluster of encephalitis cases some of which had polio-like features. Fast-forward through a major investigation led by Dr. Marcie Layton (another astute clinician) and extraordinary veterinarians and at the end it was announced that West Nile Virus had made its first foray to this side of the planet.
Were it not for her brilliant identifications it is unclear how long it would have taken for public health authorities to realize what was occurring, delaying mosquito control efforts and physician awareness.
I never formally met Dr. Asnis but I recall atleast one occasion passing her at a meeting and glancing at her name badge. As someone who devours stories of outbreaks and knew of her work, I was star struck. The infectious disease world is a little less astute without her.