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January 2010
Your Colleagues
In Memoriam: Walter E. Stamm, MD, FIDSA (1945-2009)
By Lawrence Corey, MD, FIDSA

An icon in our field and a former president of IDSA, Walter E. Stamm, MD, FIDSA, passed away Dec. 14, 2009 in Seattle at the age of 64. Dr. Stamm made major contributions to the study of urinary tract, sexually transmitted, and nosocomial infections, not only through his research and the physician scientists he mentored, but also his work in developing new standards of care still used today.

In 1980, Dr. Stamm published the first randomized controlled trial of the safety and efficacy of low-dose antimicrobial prophylaxis of recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women. A landmark paper on the diagnosis of coliform bacteria soon followed, establishing the defining standard for UTIs currently used by clinicians around the world. In rapid succession, he defined the association between C. trachomatis and acute urethral syndrome and the association between coitus and coliform UTI. He also developed the concept of short course antimicrobial therapy for UTIs and demonstrated that two weeks rather than six weeks of therapy could successfully cure upper tract infections. Recommendations based on this research remain the standard of care 25 years later.

Dr. Stamm’s laboratory developed several rapid and sensitive methods for detecting C. trachomatis infections, and he adapted these for use in large epidemiological studies, helping to clarify the role of these infections in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). In 1996, he published a classic article demonstrating how chlamydia screening could prevent PID, research that led to the chlamydia control programs we have today. These efforts have markedly reduced the frequency of PID and its tragic effects. He also demonstrated the effectiveness of a single dose of azithromycin in treating chlamydia.

A prolific writer, Dr. Stamm authored more than 350 research articles, 11 books, and numerous reviews and book chapters. One of the founding editors of the textbook, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, he served on editorial boards of several journals and was an associate editor of The Journal of Infectious Diseases for more than 10 years. He received multiple honors, including the Squibb Award—IDSA’s honor recognizing early achievement—and the Sanofi-Aventis Award from the American Society for Microbiology.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Portland, Ore., Dr. Stamm graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Medical School before completing residency training at the University of Washington in Seattle. His ID career began in 1973 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he worked as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer and branch chief, making his mark defining the important role vascular access devices played in hospital-acquired infections. In 1976, he returned to the University of Washington and began his work on urinary tract and chlamydial infections.

As the head of the division of allergy and infectious diseases at the university from 1994 to 2007, Walt grew the department’s faculty from 25 to more than 75 and mentored numerous students and fellows. He also served on many committees for the division, the medical school, and the university, in addition to chairing many guideline and advisory committees.

Dr. Stamm’s professional achievements reflected his ability to synthesize complex ideas, develop consensus, and listen wisely, but also act forcibly and with reason. He was unique: a builder, yet a consensus maker; a passionate advocate for academia and data-based research and clinical care; a superb physician; and a gentle, yet firm, mentor.

But these accomplishments are only part of his legacy, which includes the example he set as a husband, father, teacher, and leader. Dr. Stamm was accomplished in every field he touched: A star athlete in high school and at Stanford, he had a lifelong passion for tennis, which he shared with his wife Peggy, who passed away in June 2008. He also enjoyed fishing with his children and skiing with family and friends. Skiing in his tracks was a sure and elegant way to come down the mountain. We will miss his vibrant presence.

He is survived by his two daughters, Hillary and Lindsay, and a son, Andrew.
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