Susan P. Fisher-Hoch

Susan P. Fisher-Hoch

M.D., Professor of Epidemiology, The University of Texas School of Public Health

Inducted in 2008

Sue Fisher-Hoch was born in England in 1940. After completing High School she attended the Sorbonne in Paris, then continued linguistic and cultural studies in Rome. She gained admission to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in 1970 at a time when women, particularly married women as she was, were not offered places. At the Royal Free she was awarded the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson fellowship, in memory of the first English woman doctor. She graduated First Class in 1975 with seven prizes for excellence. After internship with Dr. Sheila Sherlock at the Royal Free Hospital, she joined the Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford to train in virology. Between 1978 and 1982 she taught medical students, ran virology laboratories and conducted research, publishing several papers. By 1981 she had membership of the Royal College of Pathology in Virology, a Master's degree in Microbiology with distinction and a doctoral degree in epidemiology (MD) from London University. Her doctoral thesis findings were published in the Lancet and were the first identification of hot water systems as the source of outbreaks of Legionnaire's disease, as opposed to air conditioning. She was also central to the discovery that the parvovirus B19 was responsible for Fifth's Disease (Slapped Cheek Syndrome), and in the first identification of E.coli O157 as the cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome. In 1982 she obtained a Wellcome Trust Fellowship to study the pathophysiology of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in primates in the Porton Down BSL4 facilities using biological respirators. (BSL4 is the highest level of containment that exists, used for the most dangerous viruses such as Ebola and Lassa.) This allowed her to begin to understand the processes involved in shock and death in Ebola. In 1984 she was invited to the CDC, Atlanta space suit BSL4 laboratory and published her findings on Lassa fever virus in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, providing key information on the pathophysiology of Ebola and Lassa viruses. In 1986 she moved permanently to CDC where she remained for eight years, becoming Deputy Branch Chief, Special Pathogens Laboratory, Division of Viral Diseases, and serving as Acting Branch Chief. Her responsibilities included primate studies of pathophysiology, vaccine evaluation, clinical and epidemiological advice for the United States and other countries, and supervision of the Sierra Leone Lassa Fever Research Unit. She published several major papers, notably efficacy of a Lassa Virus vaccine, comparative pathophysiology of Ebola isolates, and longitudinal studies of Ebola virus infections in monkeys.

Dr. Fisher-Hoch traveled widely and gained extensive experience working in China, Thailand, Indonesia and several countries in Africa, conducting studies and publishing reports. While with the CDC, she investigated outbreaks of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever in South Africa, Senegal and Saudi Arabia, where she gave an invited lecture in Mecca. She investigated devastating outbreaks of Lassa fever in Nigeria. She contributed to the investigation of the Reston, Virginia, outbreak in monkeys imported from the Philippines, visiting Indonesia and the Netherlands to try to track the source of the virus, and then returning to the laboratory to perform primate studies.

In 1992 she married Dr. Joseph McCormick, Chief, Special Pathogens Laboratory at CDC, and in 1993 they moved to the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan, with the object of returning to the field. Dr. Fisher-Hoch supervised the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, the largest in Pakistan. She established a molecular biology research laboratory, and worked and published studies on pathogens such as hepatitis C, Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever, tuberculosis, typhoid and cholera. In 1997 she and her husband moved to Lyon, France, where she took charge of the design, building and scientific program of a new BSL4 space suit laboratory, financed by Charles Mérieux. Dr Fisher-Hoch was awarded the Chevalier de Legion d'Honneur by the President of France, Jacques Chirac, Le Medaille de Lyon by the mayor and former Prime Minister of France, Raymond Barre, and Le Prix Scientifique du Group Paris-Lyon, for her work in designing, constructing, and rendering operational the BSL4 laboratory of Lyon. In January 2001, she moved to Brownsville, Texas, with her husband to establish the new Brownsville campus of the UT School of Public Health. Here she has established a research program in diabetes and tuberculosis recruiting and training a team of young scientists, mostly women. This program has attracted significant NIH funding, and has made major advances in understanding of these diseases in minority populations. She has established a molecular microbiology laboratory, with a BSL3 for handling pathogens such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and West Nile Virus.

Dr. Fisher-Hoch speaks fluent French, and Italian, and some Spanish. She has over the years contributed many chapters to major textbooks, written review articles, reviewed for several journals, and has more than 100 major publications. She has written invited editorials for the Lancet, and provided expert advice to the lay press and television, being featured personally in both media, and in books dealing with hemorrhagic fevers. With her husband, Joe McCormick she has published a popular account of their adventures (Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC) which has sold more than 70,000 copies, was translated into seven languages, and is widely read by young, aspiring scientists, particularly women. Together they have made invited presentations to students at institutions such as, MIT, Duke and Vanderbilt Universities, and are now mentoring aspiring young scientists in a post-bac program in Brownsville, again mainly women.