Health Notes: Physician honored for research on tick-borne illnessAn infectious-disease specialist at St. Luke’s hospital has been honored by colleagues across the country for his groundbreaking research on a tick-borne illness.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
An infectious-disease specialist at St. Luke’s hospital has been honored by colleagues across the country for his groundbreaking research on a tick-borne illness.
Dr. Johan Bakken was one of two recipients of the Watanakunakorn Clinician Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America at its conference in San Francisco this month, according to a St. Luke’s news release.
The award is named for Dr. Chatrchai Watanakunakorn, an infectious-disease expert who practiced in Youngstown, Ohio.
Bakken was honored as a “leading expert in anaplasmosis,” the news release said.
In an interview, Bakken said he first discovered what became known as anaplasmosis when he was practicing at the Duluth Clinic in 1990. An elderly man came in with an unexplained fever and didn’t respond to antibacterial treatments. The patient developed multiorgan failure and died.
A couple of weeks later, Bakken came across a paper from researchers in Texas about a disease borne by the lone star tick. Recognizing similarities, Bakken sent a blood sample from his patient to the Texas researchers.
The disease Bakken had discovered at first seemed closely related to the illness in Texas and was known as human granulocytic ehrliciosis. Additional studies revealed that the relationship wasn’t as close as first thought. The disease took the name “human anaplasmosis.” The culprit was the deer tick, the same tick that can carry Lyme disease.
“Anaplasmosis has now been recognized in more than 20 U.S. states and in 15 countries,” Bakken said. “It began in Duluth. I was fortunate enough to be the lead author of the first paper written about it.”
Bakken, who also was elected vice president of the Infectious Disease Society of America at its conference this month, said it meant a lot to him to be honored by his colleagues.
“It was a very good feeling,” he said. “There’s nothing like being recognized by your peers.”