Baton Rouge native at forefront of helping prevent next pandemic

Baton Rouge native Dr. Jessica Manning is helping the world detect new diseases from a small lab in Cambodia, a new feature from The New York Times details. 

Manning is a public health researcher with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and had been working in Cambodia for a few years when COVID-19 arrived. .   

On Jan. 23, after a Chinese national flew in from Wuhan and got sick after he arrived, Manning’s research team was able to confirm the person had the same virus as had spread in Wuhan. 

For Cambodia, a developing country with a rudimentary health care system and multiple direct flights from Wuhan, the new disease seemed to present an especially high risk. But, within the outbreak, along with the dangers, Manning saw an opportunity: helping the country join the global effort to watch for new diseases.  

In the early days of the pandemic, scientists did not know how accurate the PCR tests were or whether the virus was spawning new strains with potentially different properties. 

The research from Manning’s lab in Cambodia helped confirm the accuracy of the PCR test for COVID-19, and it revealed that the virus did not seem to be mutating substantially—an indication that the disease would be easier to test for, treat and vaccinate against.

For Manning, her research was proof that even a small outpost in the developing world could successfully detect new or unexpected pathogens and glean important information about them from their genome. As such, her lab and others like it could serve as an early warning system for the next potential pandemic.   

Read the full feature, which details Manning’s career from St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge to Cambodia and how her work can help detect new diseases.