Dr. Langmuir, who led effort to control epidemics, dies

November 24, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Dr. Alexander D. Langmuir, 83, a leader in public health who is credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives through his innovations in controlling epidemics, has died.

The cause of his death Monday in Baltimore was kidney cancer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said. Dr. Langmuir taught at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1949, Dr. Langmuir created a corps of epidemiologists at what is now the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The corps was ready to fly anywhere immediately to investigate reports of an epidemic or an unusual cluster of cases. Known as the Epidemic Intelligence Service, the program played a crucial role in turning what was then a small, obscure and fledgling operation into a large federal agency.

From 1949 to 1970, Dr. Langmuir was the disease centers' chief epidemiologist. When he retired, he taught at Harvard Medical School, staying until 1977.

As the government's chief disease detective, he created the concept of surveillance for infectious diseases. The agency uses it to track dozens of diseases and to analyze patterns to take steps to prevent clusters and outbreaks from becoming epidemics. The agency also responds to requests from state health departments to investigate unusual cases.

Many of his students have gone on to establish similar disease intelligence programs in other countries.

He relished jurisdictional and other fights with state and federal officials and other scientists.

Alexander Duncan Langmuir was born on Sept. 22, 1910, in Santa Monica, Calif., and grew up in New Jersey.

He earned a medical degree from Cornell. His math training and a flair for statistics helped him earn a degree in public health from Hopkins.

After World War II he returned to Hopkins. But he left for the disease centers because, he later said, he "was rather disenchanted with academic life at Johns Hopkins."

In 1988, he returned to Hopkins where, earlier this year, students selected him as an outstanding teacher.

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