Janet Englund, MD, is one of the world’s leading pediatric virologists. She is especially interested in viral infections in immunocompromised hosts, such as transplant recipients. She’s a very busy lady! The current president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, she also travels quite a bit for her research, as well as with her husband, a distinguished professor of Math and Computer Science at the University of Chicago, who often teaches at the University’s Paris campus during the summer. As the mom of three active children, Jan enjoys enjoy hiking, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, and snowshoeing with her family.
Dr. Shulman: What do you think have been the developments in your specialty that have had the most impact?
Dr. Englund: That’s easy: vaccines. They have absolutely changed the landscape of pediatrics — of what diseases patients get, and who goes to the hospital. I also would say that in my subspecialty working with immunocompromised patients, the other important development has been the availability of new oral antifungal agents.
Dr. Shulman: You have been in many infectious disease developments and controversies. What have been the most memorable moments in your career?
Dr. Englund: That’s really difficult. I’ve had several memorable moments, but I think being on an advisory group for the World Health Organization (WHO) is one of them. Helping shape the recommendations for the influenza vaccine in pregnant women at a global level was interesting and exciting, and working in the advisory group to SAGE at WHO I learned a lot about global health. In terms of research, one highlight has been my involvement in a maternal immunization study of maternal influenza in Nepal, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In the United States, it is recommended that pregnant women get a flu shot, and women generally are able to do this if they wish. In Nepal, influenza disease is not recognized, influenza vaccines are not available, and this vaccine is not given to pregnant women. However, in Nepal and other tropical countries, influenza is circulating 9 to 12 months a year. So, the chances of the influenza vaccine having more benefit to both pregnant women and their infants are theoretically greater.
Dr. Shulman: That sounds interesting. What have been the results so far?
Dr. Englund: The study is ongoing but we hope to have results in a year or so. However, I can comment that we are still seeing influenza nearly year-round in this part of the world.
Dr. Shulman: As the current president of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society (PIDS), what legacy do you hope to leave or build or be a part of?
Dr. Englund: I really hope to improve the awareness and impact of pediatric infectious diseases as a subspecialty. I think it’s an exciting, interesting subspecialty with involvement in all aspects of pediatric care. It has challenges because we have decreased funding for research. In fact, the better we do, the less money there is made available for our work. We are eliminating meningitis and rotavirus with our vaccines and with research on vaccines conducted by many members of our society. However, currently, there is decreased funding for research in these areas. For another example, look at tuberculosis. We do a good job managing it, so funding to combat it decreases, but then it comes back — worse than ever.
Dr. Shulman: If you had not chosen medicine what would you have done instead?
Dr. Englund: I would have gone into marine biology. I really like both sciences. It was a difficult choice — but I still get to scuba dive.