In Memoriam: Physician-Virologist who Pioneered Study of Virus Relationship, Jordi Casals-Ariet

Jordi Casals-Ariet, M.D., a renowned Yale epidemiologist who clarified the relationship between viruses that cause central nervous system disease, died on February 10, 2004 at age 92 in New York City.

Casals spent much of his academic life studying the classifications of viruses and establishing what we now know as the taxonomy of over 10,000 viruses of humans, livestock, plants, bacteria and of all other life forms.

One of the remarkable achievements of Casals’ career was showing that poliovirus, rabies virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, eastern equine encephalitis virus and other viruses causing central nervous system disease were not related to each other, but that certain viruses were related. These and other original contributions to viral taxonomy, spanning 40 years, have been verified by numerous other studies.

In 1969, Casals contracted Lassa fever, a rare and often fatal viral disease. He survived and went to Sierra Leone to help study and combat a Lassa fever outbreak in that country.

Born in Viladrau (Girona), Spain, Casals received a bachelor’s degree and attended medical school in Barcelona and in 1936 became a visiting investigator at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City. After two years in the Department of Pathology at Cornell University Medical College, he returned to the Rockefeller Institute as a staff member. When his unit was moved to Yale University, he moved with it, spending the remainder of his laboratory career in New Haven, and completing his time in research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, where he published his last scientific paper in 1998.

Casals began his work with Jules Freund, a student of Albert Calmette, who was a student of Louis Pasteur. He passed to the next generations this accumulated knowledge. He collaborated with hundreds of scientists around the world and was a member of scientific commissions on poliomyelitis and mosquito and tick-borne viruses. He served as consultant to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the World Health Organization, the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the American Committee on Arthropod-borne Viruses and the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

He was elected to the membership of many national and international scientific societies including: the New York Academy of Sciences, the Belgian Society of Tropical Medicine, the French Society of Microbiology, and the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. As a member of the American Committee on Arthropod-borne Viruses, he received the Richard M. Taylor Award in 1969. He also received the Kimble Methodology Award from the American Public Health Association.

“Jordi will be remembered by those who knew and loved him as a man of great courage, vision and integrity,” said former colleague and friend Gregory H. Tignor, professor emeritus at Yale University. “He was a dear friend, supportive colleague, insightful investigator, patient teacher and consummate gentleman.” Casals is survived by his wife Lyn, and daughter, Christina Casals-Ariet of New York City. Contributions in his name may be sent to Save-A Pet, 608 Rt. 112, Port Jefferson Station, New York 11776.

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