When I was in grade school I read the biography of a famous German microbiologist of the 19th century named Robert Koch who discovered anthrax and TB (tuberculosis) – and I was just fascinated with microbes. Koch was physician and scientist – so in retrospect this is likely what pushed me into a career in medicine, specifically, infectious diseases.
I graduated medical school at the University of Ottawa in 1980 and have lived here in Kingston since 1990. Although I am a medical doctor and I see patients, I am also an academic physician.
I do a lot of teaching with medical students and residents. I do research as well, which keeps me at the forefront of knowledge. Plus, I happen to have the coolest specialty in the world. Even the students say that.
Everybody learns about Charles Darwin and the theory of natural selection. That permeates my life every day. Microbes are just like any other creature or living organism on the earth.
I get to see Darwin’s theory in action, literally sped-up millions of times because microbes divide every 20 minutes. If you were to study humans you’d have to observe them over thousands of years to see one change in evolution. I am amazed at how accurate and how important his observations were in the late 19th century.
When I went into infectious diseases in the late 80s, the American Surgeon General had said: “We have conquered infectious diseases. We now need to worry about cancer and heart disease. Infections are a thing of the past.”
However, we have seen over the past 15-to-20 years that, in fact, that is not true. Diseases that we are used to are now becoming resistant to antibiotic treatment and new diseases are arising all the time.
Climate change is going to be the biggest problem we face with infectious diseases. What we are seeing is that diseases that exist predominantly in the tropics are now having an opportunity to come here.
For example, a problem we see with Lyme disease is that we now have a climate that allows the tick to survive in climates that it could not survive before. The movement of mosquitoes that carry Zika virus and other insects present the same problem. Infections that were once deemed tropical will start showing up here.
It turns out that a cold, harsh winter is really important for survival.