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Alum on front line of emerging infectious disease emergencies

August 2, 2010

During his nearly 30 years with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, alumnus John Pape (B.S.'82, Environmental Health), has been on the front line of nearly every emerging infectious disease emergency including, most recently, West Nile disease and chronic wasting disease.

30 years with Colorado Department of Public Health

John Pape received the 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

In May 1993, there was an outbreak of an unexplained pulmonary illness in the southwestern United States, including the Four Corners region of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

John Pape was at the center of intense efforts to understand the cause of this outbreak, which was killing previously healthy young adults. Hantavirus, transmitted by rodents, was the suspect, though this was a new variant soon named Sin Nombre virus and the new disease was called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Animal-related diseases

As an epidemiologist with the Communicable Disease Program, Pape had statewide responsibility for zoonotic (animal-related) disease surveillance and control. He retired from the state last year and, this year, was honored with the 2010 Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Pape graduated in 1982 from the then-Department of Environmental Health at Colorado State University with a degree in environmental health and a concentration in epidemiology.

Tremendous changes

“During the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen tremendous changes in not only disease concerns, but in the technologies that help us with our work, from the advances in data processing that allow us to understand more quickly complex epidemiological problems to molecular fingerprinting to get a better sense of how diseases are being transmitted,” said Pape, who, though not a veterinarian, functioned in that capacity for the Department of Public Health and Environment for 25 years, so much so that he was made an honorary member of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association.

To continue his education following retirement from the CDPHE in 2009, Pape is considering the Master of Public Health program through the Colorado School of Public Health.

Pape joined the state health department following graduation and moved to Grand Junction where he worked as a field epidemiologist, including some work in zoonotics. He worked closely with Dr. John Emerson who eventually asked Pape to join him in Denver as a field epidemiologist and assistant to the state veterinarian. When Dr. Emerson, also a CSU graduate, retired a couple of years later, funds were not available to hire a new veterinarian and Pape moved into that role in his capacity as an epidemiologist.

Challenging and rewarding career

The irony for Pape is that when he came to Colorado State University, his intention was to apply to veterinary school. When he didn't get into veterinary school, he looked at other options and environmental health let him work in:

  • animal health
  • public health
  • zoonotic investigations
  • emerging diseases research

Now that he is retired, though continues to work unofficially on some longer-term research projects, he is looking at his options once again.

Possible "second" career

“I should have John Reif (a professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences) and Lance Perryman (Dean of CVMBS) write me referrals for veterinary school; that might up my chances,” joked Pape. What he is seriously considering though, is the Master of Public Health program through the Colorado School of Public Health, to continue his education and look at other opportunities for a “second” career.

Originally published in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences Emitter newsletter, Summer 2010.