Michael Gregg, 78, Editor of U.S. Medical Bulletin, Is Dead

July 19, 2008

By JEREMY PEARCE

Michael B. Gregg, an epidemiologist and former editor of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a federal medical bulletin that published early warnings of the impending AIDS crisis in 1981, died on July 9 in Brattleboro, Vt. He was 78.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where Dr. Gregg served in supervisory roles for three decades.

From 1967 to 1988, he was editor of the Weekly Report, a source of reliable statistics and medical data about disease outbreaks since the 1870s. Under Dr. Gregg’s tenure, the report, which is published by the centers, advanced the “editorial note,” a brief commentary that is intended to provide doctors and public health officials with greater context about instances of smallpox, salmonella, polio and other potential epidemics at hand.

Dr. Gregg also vigorously opposed a policy — then prevalent at some medical journals — by which articles would be rejected if they had first been published in another journal. Dr. Gregg argued, with some success, that the public’s right to know outweighed any individual journal’s need for pre-eminence in print, and that the Weekly Report was a useful platform from which to inform a broad audience.

In June 1981, the Weekly Report published a brief account of a cluster of pneumocystis pneumonia combined with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a relatively rare skin cancer, that had appeared in five gay men living near Los Angeles. Before going to press, Dr. Gregg and others debated the account’s significance.

It was a “memorable event, because it was an intense discussion about whether or not this was just a statistical quirk,” said Dr. Richard A. Goodman, an epidemiologist at the centers.

Dr. Goodman, who succeeded Dr. Gregg as editor, said the article was among the earliest accounts in the United States of the presence of AIDS, which became an epidemic infecting about one million Americans by 2006. The Weekly Report subsequently published several dozen articles on AIDS and its treatment in the 1980s and ’90s.

Dr. Gregg arrived at the centers in 1966 as chief of its epidemic intelligence service, a post in which he trained physicians, scientists and public health officials in investigating and responding to medical crises in the field.

He later edited a widely used textbook, “Field Epidemiology” (1996), which covers surveillance of outbreaks and chronic diseases, laboratory techniques and record-keeping. The book, now in its third edition, shows “how to turn statistics into actual public health action,” said Dr. Philip S. Brachman, a professor of global health at Emory University.

Michael Barrows Gregg was born on Jan. 6, 1930, the son of Dr. Alan Gregg, a leading public health expert at the Rockefeller Foundation. Michael Gregg was born in Paris, and graduated from Stanford University before earning a medical degree from Western Reserve University in Cleveland. (It later became Case Western Reserve University.)

While at the centers, Dr. Gregg was director of the viral diseases division; he also served as deputy director of the epidemiology program office from 1981 to 1988. He retired in 1989.

Dr. Gregg is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Mary Lila White. They lived in Guilford, Vt., after moving from Atlanta in the early 1990s. He is also survived by three daughters, Jennifer Geise of Mystic, Conn.; Marianne Lawrence of Guilford; and Pamela McFadden of Dummerston, Vt.; a sister, Nancy Sipple of Ann Arbor, Mich.; two brothers, Peter, of Quadra Island, British Columbia, and Richard, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.

To the end of his career, Dr. Gregg was adamant about the need for close observation and rapid reporting of health issues, especially those involving communicable diseases.

“The public health community has not been very imaginative in promoting good reporting,” he told The New York Times in 1990.

“Reporting cases ought to be as much of a reflex as carrying a stethoscope,” he concluded, “and the names of serious offenders should be made public.”

New York Times

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