Professor Robert Swanepoel

Department Medical Virology

Zoonoses Research Unit
Prof Swanepoel graduated as a veterinarian at UP in 1960, spent two years in colonial service in Malawi, and obtained a PhD in virology at Edinburgh University in 1968. Thereafter he established medical and veterinary virus laboratories in Zimbabwe before being appointed as Head of the new Special Pathogens Unit (SPU), with a biosafety level 4 (BSL4) facility, at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg in 1980. The unit gained recognition as a WHO Regional Collaborating Centre for Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers and Arboviruses, and Prof Swanepoel was appointed Reader (Professor) in Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers and Zoonoses, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand. He headed the SPU for 24 years and remained as Consultant on post-retirement contract for a further 7 years until taking up his present appointment in the new Zoonoses Research Unit at UP in 2011. The SPU at NICD diagnosed and participated in teams to investigate and control many disease outbreaks, including Marburg and Ebola haemorrhagic fevers, Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, in 23 countries in Africa and 10 in Europe and Asia, as far afield as Afghanistan, and identified the lethal new Lassa fever-related Lujo virus which killed health care workers in Johannesburg in 2008. Prof Swanepoel has authored or co-authored 203 publications including 151 articles in peer-reviewed journals, 32 book chapters and 20 invited articles, and reports, plus institutional and national guidelines. He has served on or headed 30 national and international committees, editorial boards and disease outbreak investigation and response teams. His national and international awards and honours include the Theiler Memorial Trust Award for contributions to Veterinary and Medical Science in Africa in 2002, and Honorary Membership of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2007.

Research Interests 

Zoonotic and vector-borne agents as cause of undiagnosed disease of humans, farm and wild animals in southern Africa; pathogen discovery; development of microbiological/molecular and immunological investigatory tools; epidemiology of vector-borne diseases including seasonal circulation of agents in vectors and vertebrates, and the role of climate.

Key Publications

1. Swanepoel R, Shepherd AJ, Leman PA, Shepherd SP, McGillivray GM, Erasmus MJ, Searle LA and Gill DE (1987). Epidemiologic and clinical features of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever in southern Africa. American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 36:130-42.

2. Swanepoel R, Leman PA, Burt FJ, Zachariades NA, Braack LEO, Ksiazek TG, Rollin PE, Zaki SR and Peters CJ. (1996) Experimental inoculation of plants and animals with Ebola virus. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2:321-5.

3. Swanepoel R, Smit SB, Rollin PE, Formenty P, Leman PA, Kemp A, Burt FJ, Grobbelaar AA, Croft J, Bausch DG, Zeller H, Leirs H, Braack LEO, Libande ML, Zaki S, Nichol ST, Ksiazek TG and Paweska JT. (2007).Studies of reservoir hosts for Marburg virus. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 13:1847-51.

Published by Grant Christie

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