Dr. Paul Fiset, 78, helped develop vaccine for fever

March 03, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Paul Fiset -- a retired microbiologist and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland School of Medicine whose research contributed to the development of a vaccine for sufferers of Q fever, a flu-like illness -- died Tuesday of cardiac failure at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 78.

The Timonium resident, who retired from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1989, was appointed an associate professor in 1964 in the school's Department of Microbiology. He became a full professor in 1975 and served as interim department chairman from 1986 until his retirement.

Dr. Fiset wrote widely on his research interests, which included Rickettsial diseases and Q fever.

"Dr. Paul Fiset was an innovative investigator in the field of Rikettsial diseases, which includes Rocky Mountain spotted fever," said Dr. Theodore E. Woodward, an expert on infectious diseases and former chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"Q fever was his particular field of interest, a disease which often caused pneumonia and liver involvement. His research greatly clarified the nature of the caustic Q fever microbe, which aided in development of laboratory tests needed to confirm the diagnosis," he said.

"His work also helped to open the route necessary for producing a protective vaccine and skin test," said Dr. Woodward who described Dr. Fiset as a "popular teacher and a well-respected faculty member."

Q fever was first recognized in 1935 in abattoir workers and farmers in Australia handling carcasses of sheep and cattle.

During the 1950s while at Cambridge University, Dr. Fiset, in collaboration with Sir Michael Stoker, identified variations in the structure of Coxiella burnetii, the caustic agent of Q fever. The disease, which can last for several weeks, causes acute fever, headaches, sweating and severe muscle aches and pains.

His initial research and later studies led to the development of a vaccine with Dr. Barry Marmion, an Australian microbiologist.

First tested on slaughterhouse workers in Australia, the vaccine resulted in a protection rate of 95 percent against the disease.

"Paul was a good colleague, and, of course, we are saddened by his passing," said Dr. Marmion, visiting professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"In those early days, I remember him as a small, slender and well-dressed person. He had a very sharp mind, always questioning the beliefs and trying to gain information about anything in his environment, quite apart from the science," he said.

Dr. Marmion recalled Dr. Fiset as "quick moving" and gifted with a "great sense of humor."

"He had a love of conversation across the dinner table, and was a lover of good food and French wine. He was a well-rounded person with deep interests in literature and music," he said.

Dr. Gerald A. Cole, a longtime colleague at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said, "He was one hell of a nice guy."

Born in Quebec, Dr. Fiset was a graduate of Petit Seminaire de Quebec. He earned his bachelor's degree in humanities and general sciences from Laval University in 1944.

In addition to his medical degree, which he earned from Laval University in 1949, he also received a doctorate in virology from Cambridge, which was awarded in 1956.

He completed his internship at the University Hospital System in Quebec. He did a residency in medicine at St. Sacrement University Hospital and was an assistant resident in microbiology at Ste. Foy Veterans' Hospital, both in Quebec.

He also completed training at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill in London.

Dr. Fiset began his career as director of laboratory services at Ste. Foy Veterans' Hospital and instructor at Laval University Medical School, and later held posts at the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester and University of Rochester Medical Center before coming to Baltimore.

After becoming an American citizen in 1965, he served on the Commission on Rickettsial Diseases and the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board from 1965 to 1972.

He maintained an extensive library in his home, where he enjoyed reading books related to American and medical history. He also was an avid traveler.

He was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity, 1809 Vista Lane, Timonium, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

Dr. Fiset is survived by his wife of 47 years, the former Lorraine Gosselin; a son, Peter Fiset of Pittsburgh; two daughters, Lauren Novak of Dusseldorf, Germany, and Clare Bugary of Monterey, Calif.; and three grandchildren.

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