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AP: Virus experts find themselves facing sudden fame

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Boston-based reporter Philip Marcelo interviewed some of the virologists and epidemiologists we’re all seeing on the evening news, and produced a fascinating portrait of scientists who — for better or worse — have found themselves in the pop culture crucible.

Seattle-based virus expert Dr. Angela Rasmussen told Marcelo how her Twitter following exploded after she got into a tangle with Elon Musk, who attempted to “mansplain” the pandemic to her. Atlanta-based infectious diseases expert Laurel Bristow’s Instagram account swelled to more than 330,000 followers as she posted videos answering people’s questions and concerns about COVID-19.

But Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and a frequent presence in the news media, had a darker experience: The India-born expert in pandemic preparedness told Marcelo he’s received anti-immigrant tropes and gotten death threats.

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Infectious disease researcher Laurel Bristow poses at Emory Midtown Hospital in Atlanta, Dec. 23, 2020. In another time, experts like Bristow would have enjoyed the esteem, respect and relative obscurity afforded by academia. But for better or worse, COVID-19 thrust virologists, epidemiologists and other normally low-profile scientists into the pop culture crucible this year. Bristow’s Instagram account now has more than 330,000 followers. – AP Photo / John Bazemore
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