Episode Summary

Dr. Marie Landry, Professor of Laboratory medicine and Infectious Diseases at Yale University School of Medicine and Dr. John Booss, Professor Emeritus of Neurology and Laboratory Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and former National Director of Neurology for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs discuss the past, present and future of diagnostic virology. These proclaimed coauthors walk us through the impact of some of the most significant pathogens of our time, in preparation for the launch of their 2nd edition of “To Catch a Virus,” a book that recounts the history of viral epidemics from the late 1800s to present in a gripping storytelling fashion.

Subscribe (free) on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Android, RSS or by email.

Ashley's Biggest Takeaways

  • Coauthoring a book requires having great respect for the opinions of the person you are working with.
  • The first human disease shown to be viral in nature was yellow fever, but for quite some time, the mode of disease transmission remained mysterious. In early 1881, Carlos Finlay of Cuba suggested that the disease could be spread by mosquitoes and significantly advanced the field.
  • In the early 1900s, scientists determined that materials filtered to remove bacteria could still transmit virus infections to animals in the laboratory.
  • The ability to grow virus in tissue culture was another huge advancement in the field of diagnostic virology, which eventually led to the development of the Salk inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).
  • Although he did not seek the spotlight for his work, Wallace Rowe, was a brilliant, hardworking virologist (and one of John’s favorites), who made important advances in tissue culture, researched the role of retroviruses in animal cancer and discovered adenoviruses.  
  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinical laboratory's central role in public health was widely recognized. The importance of a laboratory diagnosis became more evident, and next generation sequencing moved further into the clinical lab.

Featured Quotes:

“Advice that was given to me way back when I started on my first book is that you have to write about something you're passionate about. You have to really believe in the topic because otherwise it'll come across as superficial and artificial. So the very first step is, do you really believe in, [and in the case of writing a book] believe in what you're writing about.” – Booss

“Science is often projected as a steady stream of advances one after the other. But there is a certain amount, I think, of arbitrary choice at each step. And it's also true for writing a book.” – Booss

“In putting the book together, there are obviously major events that occurred in virology that move the field forward, an interplay, really, of the scientific advances, the clinical need of the crisis at hand and some very remarkable people. One highlight of this book is the way it does focus on individuals and their stories and how they contributed to that progress.” -Landry


“The most compelling virus that I can think of in my youth was obviously polio. When I was a small child, polio was causing epidemics every summer, at the end of which, between 20 and 30,000 children in the United States were left either paralyzed or dead. So [polio] really struck fear into parents' hearts.” – Landry

“And then came the oral polio vaccine. We lined up in school and were given polio vaccine in sugar cubes—a very painless way to be immunized. So that was a tremendous success story. And we've come very close to eliminating polio, but because of a number of reasons it hasn't happened.” - Landry

“There was a case recently of paralytic polio in New York, in an unvaccinated person, and I hope this is a wake-up call. We really thought we were about to eliminate poliovirus before COVID. And then, with those disruptions and others, there's been a little resurgence, but I hope that elimination will be accomplished soon.” -Landry


“It's amazing how much the world did change. International economies collapsed. whole societies shut down. The education and socialization of children came to a screeching halt. As schools close, whole chasms of inequality opened up or were revealed. And also the poor and marginalized people were the ones who suffered most. And the U.S. cultural divisions interfered with attempts to block the disease. So that by 2022, the U.S. was unique in having over 1 million deaths. We unfortunately led the world in that regard.” – Booss

“Sometimes we need a crisis to move us forward. And we saw this with the new vaccine platforms, especially the mRNA vaccine.” - Landry

Let us know what you thought about this episode by tweeting at us @ASMicrobiology or leaving a comment on facebook.com/asmfan.


From yellow fever and smallpox, to polio, AIDS and COVID-19, To Catch a Virus guides readers through the mysterious process of catching novel viruses and controlling deadly viral epidemics— and the detective work of those determined to identify the culprits and treat the infected.

The new edition will be released October 15, 2022, available at asm.org/books

Mark O. Martin