Dr Robert Webster, a world-reknowned virologist and international influenza expert, has published a book focusing on the scientific detective work behind the 1918 influenza pandemic.
Now at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr Webster studied Microbiology at the University of Otago in the 1960s and has continued to maintain links with the department. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of NZ, a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and a Member of the US Academy of Sciences. He gave his name to Otago's Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases and Webster Family Chair for Viral Pathogenesis.
Dr Webster's life work has followed pandemic viruses, where they come from and how they spread to humans. Notably, he was one of the first scientists to establish a link between wild aquatic birds and human influenza pandemics which has been the basis of much of this research.
In his book, he says it is sobering to realise that, after nearly 100 years of studying the 1918 influenza, we still do not know precisely why the virus was such a killer. "We have made huge advantages in our understanding, and in the development of medicines and vaccines, but we are not there yet."
Flu Hunter: unlocking the secrets of a virus is published this month by Otago University Press.