Wilbur Milhous’ infectious passion for infectious disease

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The time has come for former USF College of Public Health Department of Global Health professor Dr. Wilbur Milhous to retire, but he won’t be sitting still for too long.

Although his retirement from the COPH began August 6, Milhous has still been active in academia, teaching part-time at Clemson University.

He’s also spending time with his family in South Carolina, his original stomping grounds, where he grew up on his family’s farm in Olar, a small town with a population of less than 300.

Dr. Wilbur Milhous (far right) at the historic Mizpah Church in Beaufort’s Bridge, South Carolina with (from left) daughter Elizabeth, brother Mat, daughter Allyson, and granddaughters Lauren and Aubrey. (Photo courtesy of Milhous)

His path from the family farm to the COPH was filled with many milestones resulting in a career of more than 40 years of clinical and research experience in public health, medical microbiology and parasitology.

“Public health represents the true implementation of what we learn as scientists,” he said.

After earning his bachelors and master’s degrees from Clemson, he received his PhD in 1983 from the UNC Gillings School of Global Health. While earning his PhD he also trained at Burroughs Wellcome, currently known as Glasko-Smith Kline, where he has since gained 35 years of experience in small molecule drug development in malaria and emerging diseases.

“The complexity of the micro-organisms and the diseases they cause interested me the most,” Milhous said.

His path then led him to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), the oldest school of public health and preventive medicine in the U.S., working in experimental therapeutics for discovery, lead optimization and translational research in drug development for the Military Infectious Disease Research Program.

He also became the consultant to the Army surgeon general in medical microbiology and chief science officer for therapeutics at WRAIR.

Milhous during his first tour performing meningococcal surveillance. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Medical Department)

“My first public health expereince was surveillance and detection of meningococcal disease at beautiful downtown Ft. Polk, Louisiana, and an off-campus UNC MPH program while assigned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina,” Milhous said.

But, he said it was meeting COPH Dean Donna Petersen that persuaded him to change courses and join USF.

“I met Dean Petersen in Panama and never got over it,” he said “I knew she was an amazing leader.”

He joined the faculty of the USF Global Health and Infectious Diseases Research (GHIDR) program and became a member of the Medicines for Malaria Expect Scientific Advisory Committee. He was also founding co-chair of the Committee on Global Health of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).

He said his favorite memories of the COPH came down to the people he interacted with.

“It was the opportunity to thrive and mentor great students that is my favorite,” he said. “I watched them transform into great professionals.”

Milhous and Dr. Tom Bernard during the college’s celebration of the Super Bowl. (Photo by Anna Mayor)

He also served as associate dean for research in the COPH for ten years, catapulting the COPH’s research program to one of the top at the USF and managing a multimillion dollar research portfolio.

Milhous said the COPH’s faculty and senior leadership helped to make his efforts in doing so a success.

“I was recruited [to COPH] with three of my best friends and greatest collaborators, so this was really an opportunity to work closely with people I knew in addition to being with a great academic culture with new leadership. The faculty were also very supportive during some tough family times,” he said.

As a 32-year member of the of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, he has received numerous honors and awards to include the ASTMH-LePrince Medal in Malariology, the Gorgas Medal in Preventive Medicine, ASTMH-Ashford Medal in Tropical Medicine, Distinguished Alumnus of UNC, USF Research Achievement Award as well as numerous military awards during 35 years of active federal service.

Milhous (second from left) and the original GHIDR faculty. (Photo courtesy of Milhous)

Milhous is also editor of ASM Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy and a member of editorial boards for Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Journal of Tropical Medicine.

He has more than 170 publications with more than 10,800 citations including 14 books and book chapters and 10 therapeutic patents for parasitic diseases.

When asked what impact he hopes his research career has had, he said, “Taking some baby steps toward eradication of neglected diseases.”

While his career has no doubt contributed to the field of public health, he hopes future public health practitioners take note that it’s not always easy.

“Stay the course,” he said. “Expected the unexpected.”


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health