Research by a former Valley man could change the way doctors treat influenza.
By PAUL WHEATLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CAMPBELL -- A Campbell native thinks his research findings could save tens of thousands of lives each year.
Thomas Reichert, Memorial High School's 1958 valedictorian, has discovered that children are often prime factors in the spread of influenza and that vaccinating them against the flu can prevent it in them and in adults.
That action can possibly save as many as 50,000 lives each year.
Medical journal: A report on his work was published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The research focused on Japan, the only country to concentrate vaccinations on children in a policy from 1962 to 1994, after flu there killed 8,000 people.
"Influenza is not just a social inconvenience, it's a deadly social disease," said Reichert, 59.
How it began: Reichert served as vice president of medical affairs for Becton Dickinson & amp; Co., a worldwide medical supply manufacturer and retailer in New Jersey, until retiring in 1999.
He said company sales, which peaked in the winter and dropped in the summer, led him to his research.
He tracked down monthly U.S. mortality reports that showed 20 percent more deaths in January and February than in August and September. Flu season peaks during the winter.
High ratios: In the United States, 12 people die in January and February for every 10 people who die in August and September, he said.
Japan had even higher rates, with 15 people dying in the two winter months for every 10 dying in the two summer months.
Reichert, who co-authored the report with some of the world's leading flu specialists from the United States and Japan, said Japan's high flu death rate and its child vaccination policy gained his attention.
Deaths drop: Reichert's team found a significant drop in flu deaths -- about 10,000 per year -- between 1970 and 1990, after the vaccination of children began.
For too long, he said, we have been cut off from Japan's medical reports because of language barriers.
He said about 50,000 people die of the flu each year in the United States, about the same number of people as in Japan. About 2 million people each year die of the flu around the world.
Hopes for change: Reichert hopes the report might alter the way Americans treat influenza.
And though his team's research could help save millions, Reichert doesn't see himself as a hero.
"I see myself as a blue-collar kid that got all the right breaks that America can provide," he said of growing up in a steel town.
It was back then that he first distinguished himself.
Spelling bee champ: Reichert was described in news stories as "a plucky boy fighting back tears of bereavement" over his sister's death three days before he won the 1953 Vindicator Spelling Bee, giving Campbell School District its first spelling bee championship.
Reichert and his wife, Lana, live in Upper Saddle River, N.J. They have two grown children, Nina and Tod.