Associate Director of Science, Division of Parasitic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases.
Dr. Khan’s MO? Follow the clues!
“I like all the questions and things we do not know about infectious diseases. It’s very interesting to take the clues from sick people and the laboratory to figure out what the disease is, and how it is probably transmitted to humans, and then try to keep anybody else from becoming sick.”
Dr. Khan works on stopping killer diseases (like malaria), and protecting the United States from them. When a new serious infectious disease (like ebola or anthrax) breaks out, he leads CDC teams that help get things under control.
Dr. Khan helped to set up a system to find people in the U.S. who had SARS, trace the disease back to see who had given it to them, and keep them from giving it to anyone else. The system worked like this… Doctors would call the health department in their state if they had a patient they suspected had SARS.
Then, the state would call the CDC with information about the patient so that the CDC had all the facts and could start tracking the disease. This info was used to create a computer database that showed all of the cases and made charts, graphs, and maps showing how the disease spread. The CDC team followed up by getting test results to make sure that the sick people actually had SARS and not something else. Fortunately, they found that SARS had not spread in the U.S. Even though there were hundreds of potential cases in the database, the lab tests showed that only eight people in the U.S. really had SARS, and all of those people got it while they were in other countries.
Dr. Khan soon got another call for help—from the WHO. They needed him to work with an international team to send CDC people to Asia to continue the investigation. After a week of helping team members prepare for their trips, Dr. Khan packed his own bags and set off for Singapore to face SARS head-on. There, he helped the Singaporean health department figure out ways to stop the disease. He also put different databases together to make one super SARS database that helped the international team working on SARS understand how the disease was spreading. On top of that, he set up research studies, wrote articles on what was going on in Singapore, put out travel warnings, and more.
For more on Dr. Khan and other microbiologists, see these interviews