It’s hard to talk about someone you know who passed away, but, believe me; it’s harder when you talk about someone you know nothing about. To know someone better, you have to read his writings or, simply, read what his friends wrote about him. Reading what a disciple of his, David M. Morens the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, wrote about him made me believe that Dr. Gregg is the luckiest person on the planet by gaining this undeniable love & appreciation from his students. Dr. Gregg died on July 9, 2008 at the age 78.
Michael B. Gregg, M.D. was born in 1930 in Paris, France. He was educated at Stanford University and Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He entered the Public Health Service in 1959 right after he completed his residency in internal medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NY. He first served at the National Institutes of Health Rocky Mountain Laboratory. He then trained in infectious diseases in Lahore, Pakistan before he joined CDC (it was known as the Communicable Disease Center) in 1966 as Chief Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer (EISO). From 1967-1988, Dr. Gregg (or Mike like everyone in the CDC used to call him) was the editor of the MMWR. His writing style “just the facts” made thousands of epidemiologists believe that good medical writing indicates clear thinking, which is the only thing needed in Epidemiology. In 1975, Mike was the MMWR editor, Viral Diseases Division director and deputy director of the Bureau of Epidemiology.
Mike was not only a MMWR editor, but he taught hundreds of students in NIH & CDC to become leaders in epidemiology & public health. Mike’s textbook “Field Epidemiology” (Don’t get extremely excited, It’s a link to the review not the book itself. My apologies.) is the “go to” book in breakout investigation & to solve public health issues. As David M. Morens says, it reflects his very wide experience in national as well as international epidemiology including:
- Pontiac fever/Legionnaires’ disease (1968/1976) [Ligeonella pneumophila – Philadelphia] First, it was thought to be a 1918-like influenza pandemic, but Mike kept running through the history of Influenza & other respiratory diseases, the epidemic ones. After a couple of days of collecting info, Mike was the first to say: “This is beginning to look like Pontiac fever.”
- Swine flu (1975–1976) [Hsw1N1 – New Jersey]
- Guillain-Barré syndrome (1977)
- Ebola hemorrhagic fever (1976) [(-)ssRNA virus – Zaire & Sudan]
- In the June 5, 1981 issue, he published a report about 5 Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia cases. Such disease was rare, so he wrote a note saying: “the case histories suggested a cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure, a disease acquired through sexual contact”, which we know now as HIV/ AIDS. It was the first report about it.
- He helped in putting on the epidemiology map of Reye syndrome (1973–1977) [A fatal disease associated with Aspirin consumption when having a viral-disease e.g. Varicella – Ohio] , Kawasaki disease (1977), and toxic-shock syndrome (1980) [S. aureus]. He was consulted in the SARS outbreak in 2003 [Severe acute respiratory syndrome (+)ssRNA coronavirus] even after his full retirement.
Mike used to give the epidemiology course each July. The first subject was: “How to investigate an epidemic”. His first words were: “First, you need to find a good map…” He was teaching his students to keep an open and interested mind, to remain flexible and creative, to rethink and to assemble the puzzle pieces quickly to get the big picture.
“It’s better to be approximately right today than exactly right tomorrow,” a phrase said by Michael O’Leary, a former epidemiology student of Mike rephrasing his description of epidemiologists’ work: “Quick and dirty”.
Michael B. Gregg: http://www.cdc.gov/