Udall visits CSU's new infectious disease center

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

FORT COLLINS — After the H1N1 virus, or Swine Flu, pandemic scare hit, it became nearly impossible to avoid the latest news about the virus — which, many believe, could spread worldwide within weeks. Although the most dire predictions are looking less and less likely to come true, the threat is real, as evidenced by the cases that have begun to emerge in Colorado.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall acknowledged the threat by releasing a statement saying his office would work with Gov. Bill Ritter to streamline an effective state reaction in the event of a major pandemic. He also scheduled a press conference and took a tour last weekend of the Arthropod-Borne and Infectious Disease Research Center on the campus of Colorado State University.

“I came here to learn and understand more, not just about the challenges and the threats that are out there, but also about the opportunities that are here at this facility,” Udall told the assembled press after his tour. “Clearly, microbes rule the world.... There is so much going on in the invisible spaces.”

Udall also said centers such as the one found on the CSU campus can play a key role in generating new jobs for the state. He predicted that the center will receive additional federal dollars in coming years as the country’s health care community and national security interests continue to hone in on biological diseases.

“One of the exciting elements of Colorado’s economy is some of the new economy endeavors,” Udall said. “But we have had a long presence in the bio-diversity areas as well, and, in the long run, Colorado, because of this leading position, will see jobs created and see additional opportunities result.”

Although much of the center is sealed by one set of airlock doors after another, Udall was able to take a tour of the center’s brand-new $80-million wing, which has yet to open. When it does, CSU research scientists and members of the national Centers for Disease Control will work hand in hand in a collaborative effort to defeat the world’s scariest viruses.

Infectious diseases are a major threat to the health of animals and humans worldwide. They cause immeasurable suffering and loss for individuals, families and societies, scientists told Udall during his visit to CSU.

Although few people still see infectious disease as a major threat, it remains the third leading cause of death in the world and is a major impediment to development in countries and regions that can least afford them. Furthermore, the many infectious diseases that are resurging around the globe — including
malaria, tuberculosis, plague and yellow fever — kill millions of people every year and are slowly becoming resistant to medicine and preventative measures.

The Colorado center at CSU will not work directly on the H1N1 virus, but officials say the research scientists are undertaking there will supplement national efforts to combat it. Furthermore, its labs can serve as a back-up facility in the case of a pandemic.

“I think that we continue to look too broad-based at anti-virals in these cases like H1N1, and there is a lot of discussion about how effective vaccines, similar to what we are working on at CSU, will be in dealing with emerging diseases,” said Dr. Bill Farland, vice president of research at CSU. “We are being vigilant to watch the situation as it develops, but I think the main thing we can do is educate the public about the importance of good public health practices and being aware of what is out there.”

Before leaving the center, Udall praised his other colleagues in Congress for helping to establish the CDC facility on the campus of CSU, including former Republican Sen. Wayne Allard and former 4th Congressional District Republican representatives Bob Schaffer and Marilyn Musgrave.

“It’s a truly bipartisan effort when it comes time to combating infectious diseases,” Udall said. “Because the H1N1 virus or other diseases don’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat.”

Jason@coloradostatesman.com