This week in science history: The man who found the cause of the great influenza epidemic is born
An Australian vet made some of the world’s most important discoveries in animal and human disease. Jeff Glorfeld reports.
William Ian Beardmore (“WIB”) Beveridge was born into a farming family on April 23,1908, in Junee, southern New South Wales, in Australia. But rather than stay on the land, he excelled at veterinary science and achieved international recognition for his studies of diseases that harm farm animals, and of the swine influenza virus.
Beveridge graduated from the University of Sydney in 1931, with a bachelor degree in veterinary science. He went to work at the country’s premier vet research facility, the CSIRO McMaster Animal Health Laboratory in Sydney, where he spent several years investigating and finding successful treatments for sheath-rot and foot-rot – two diseases that severely affect sheep.
In 1937, he went to work in the United States, at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, studying swine influenza virus, on which he worked with Richard Shope. They showed that it was serologically identical with the agent that caused the 1918-19 flu pandemic, which killed between 20 million and 40 million people and has been called the most devastating epidemic in recorded history.
Of Beveridge’s 1977 book Influenza: The last great plague, an Unfinished Story of Discovery, a reviewer wrote, “Although this book is intended for the well-informed reader, Beveridge’s excellent exposition renders the book accessible to non-specialists.”
In 1947 Beveridge was appointed professor of animal pathology at Cambridge University in the UK, where he helped establish a new veterinary school.
While at Cambridge he published his most successful book, The Art of Scientific Investigation.
His research at Cambridge focused on pneumonia in pigs, the maternal and neonatal behaviour of pigs, and influenza in horses. The work took on international focus through his collaboration with Martin Kaplan, the chief of the Veterinary Public Health Unit of the World Health Organisation.
The Sydney Morning Herald, in its obituary for Beveridge, reported that, “Together they developed and edited an international nomenclature and classification of cancers of domestic animals, which occupied the whole of the 1974 and 1976 volumes of the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation. Beveridge was chairman of the World Veterinary Association for 18 years (1957-75) and president at the congresses it held every four years.”
He published 11 books, including three commissioned by the Australian Bureau of Animal Health after his return to Australia in 1979.
He died on August 14, 2006.