February 25, 2004 by

Jordi Casals-Ariet


Categories: Medicine, Scientists

Dr. Jordi Casals-Ariet, the epidemiologist who spent his life studying dangerous viruses, died on Feb. 10. Cause of death was not released. He was 92.
Born in Spain, Casals served in the Spanish Army then earned a medical degree from the University of Barcelona. He moved to the United States in the mid-1930s and worked at Cornell University Medical College before joining the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in Manhattan. He studied and classified samples of viruses sent from scientists all over the world. When the Rockefeller Foundation moved its program to Yale in 1964, Casals became a professor of epidemiology there.
In 1969, Casals’s team identified the Lassa fever virus in the blood of three American missionary nurses stationed in northern Nigeria. Lassa is a rare and often fatal viral disease that causes dangerous fevers, muscle aches, mouth ulcers, a skin rash with tiny hemorrhages and pneumonia. Two of the nurses died, but the third one, Lily Pinneo, flew to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and recovered nine weeks later.
Shortly after he started working with the virus, Casals became ill and also checked himself in to Columbia-Presbyterian. As his symptoms worsened, the doctors determined that Casals had been infected with Lassa. The medical team flew Pinneo in from Rochester, N.Y., and used her blood’s antibodies to save Casals’s life.
Publicity about the virus discovery and the subsequent laboratory accidents ushered in a new era of safety procedures. After he recovered from the virus, Casals flew to Sierra Leone to help study and combat a Lassa fever outbreak in that country. He also built a World Health Organization reference center for certain viral diseases and taught at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

5 Responses to Jordi Casals-Ariet

  1. Rev. Bud Couts

    I am the pastor of Goss Memorial Church in Akron, Ohio. This church has supported Lily Pineo all these years in her missionary endeavors. One of the other nurses who died of Lassa Fever was Jeanette Troup who was the daugter of the pastor of Goss, Dr. William Troup. Lily is retired now and living in Florida.

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