- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Distinguished professors are scholars whose work has been internationally recognized and acclaimed and whose teaching is excellent. The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology now has four distinguished professors: entomologists Bruce Hammock, Frank Zalom and Thomas Scott and nematologist Howard Ferris.
Scott, internationally known for his work with on the ecology and epidemiology of dengue, joined the then UC Davis Department of Entomology 18 years ago. He focuses his work on contributing to improved public health in the United States and in the developing world, where resources are inadequate and help is desperately needed.
“What began as an interest in the ecology of infectious disease--working as a graduate student for the Centers of Disease Control, receiving a doctorate in ecology from Pennsylvania State University, and serving as an epidemiology post-doc at the Yale School of Medicine--expanded into my current objective of applying innovative science to enhanced disease prevention and constructive contributions to the debate over improved public health policy,” Scott said.
His expertise centers on mosquito-transmitted disease; the bulk of his work is on dengue. Each year, 3.97 billion people in 128 countries are at risk, and an estimated 390 million people are infected with this mosquito-borne virus.
Scott teaches the high successful Medical Entomology (ENT 153) class at UC Davis. He focuses his research on epidemiology of mosquito-borne viral disease, mosquito ecology, evolution of mosquito-virus interactions, and evaluation of novel products and strategies for disease control.
“I aim to generate the detailed, difficult to obtain data that are necessary for assessing current recommendations for disease prevention, rigorously testing fundamental assumptions in public health policy, and developing innovative, cost, and operationally effective strategic concepts for prevention of mosquito-borne disease,” he said. For more than 35 years he has conducted arbovirus research, with an emphasis on dengue since 1990 in Asia (Thailand for the past 25 years) and Latin America (Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Peru for the past 23 years). He works closely with the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California and the Thai and Peruvian Ministries of Health.
Scott directed two long-term dengue cohort studies in Peru and Thailand. “One of our key innovations,” he said, “was the development of a way to rapidly identify active human infections and study virus transmission dynamics across communities. “Our geographic cluster and contact tracing study designs are changing the way people investigate dengue epidemiology and are providing new insights into virus invasion, amplification, and epidemic transmission, all of which influence the design of improved disease prevention programs.”
A common theme in his dengue epidemiology research is the importance of heterogeneities in patterns of human infection, how variation in these kinds of factors affects trends in dengue transmission, and whether data on this topic can be captured and applied in an operationally amenable way.
“Research in Thailand showed that dengue transmission is remarkably focal, helped explain patterns of human and mosquito infection, and is consistent with targeting interventions for improved disease prevention. Complementary research in Thailand defined patterns in mosquito production and virus infection, gene-by-gene interactions during mosquito infection, the impact of mosquito infection on virus evolution, and the impact of daily temperature fluctuations on mosquito infection and transmission.”
“Results from human movement studies are the basis for designing, parameterizing, and testing quantitative network models on virus transmission dynamics, surveillance, and prevention and of interest for application to other infectious diseases.”
Scott is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Entomological Society of America (ESA). He served as an editor for the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Journal of Insect Science, and Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association; and is included in Who's Who in America.
In addition, he was a standing member of the United States–Japan Cooperative Medical Sciences Program Parasitic Diseases Panel; past president of the Society for Vector Ecology; chair of the Medical and Veterinary Entomology section of ESA; a standing member on the Program Committee for the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and a member of the Robert E. Shope International Fellowship in Infectious Diseases Committee.
Scott is often asked to review grant proposals for a variety of funding agencies: National Institutes of Health; National Science Foundation; Institut Pasteur, France; Netherlands Foundation for Science and Global Development; Medical Research Council (UK), and Wellcome Trust.
Scott is currently serving an 8-year term on the Council of the International Congresses of Entomology. Recently, he was appointed to the Steering Committee of the newly formed Partnership for Dengue Control, a consolidation of vaccine developers, novel mosquito interventions, international health funders (Gates and Carlos Slim Foundations), and experts on dengue prevention. Scott was also singled out to lead a comprehensive assessment of current and project mosquito interventions for dengue and develop the conceptual basis for feasibility trials that combine mosquito control and vaccines for dengue prevention.
Scott works closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) in several of its mosquito-borne disease and dengue prevention programs: the Vector Control Advisory Group and the program to Estimate the Global Burden of Dengue.