Infectious diseases ‘giant’ John Bartlett: His ‘impact will endure’


John G. Bartlett, MD, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and a prominent leader and instructor in infectious disease medicine, died Jan. 19 at age 83. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.

Dr. John G. Bartlett

Dr. John G. Bartlett

Dr. Bartlett is remembered by colleagues for his wide range of infectious disease expertise, an ability to repeatedly predict emerging issues in the field, and for inspiring students and trainees to choose the same specialty.

“What I consistently found so extraordinary about John was his excitement for ID – the whole field. He had a wonderful sixth sense about what was going to be the next ‘big thing,’” Paul Edward Sax, MD, clinical director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told this news organization.

“He thoroughly absorbed the emerging research on the topic and then provided the most wonderful clinical summaries,” Dr. Sax said. “His range of expert content areas was unbelievably broad.” Dr. Bartlett was “a true ID polymath.”

Dr. Bartlett was “a giant in the field of infectious diseases,” David Lee Thomas, MD, MPH, said in an interview. He agreed that Dr. Bartlett was a visionary who could anticipate the most exciting developments in the specialty.

Dr. Bartlett also “led the efforts to combat the foes, from HIV to antimicrobial resistance,” said Dr. Thomas, director of the division of infectious diseases and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

A pioneer in HIV research and care

Dr. Bartlett’s early research focused on anaerobic pulmonary and other infections, Bacteroides fragilis pathogenesis, and colitis caused by Clostridioides difficile.

Shortly after joining Johns Hopkins in 1980, he focused on HIV/AIDS research and caring for people with HIV. Dr. Bartlett led clinical trials of new treatments and developed years of HIV clinical treatment guidelines.

“Back when most hospitals, university medical centers, and ID divisions were running away from the AIDS epidemic, John took it on, both as a scientific priority and a moral imperative,” Dr. Sax writes in a blog post for NEJM Journal Watch. “With the help of Frank Polk and the Hopkins president, he established an outpatient AIDS clinic and an inpatient AIDS ward – both of which were way ahead of their time.”

In the same post, Dr. Sax points out that Dr. Bartlett was an expert in multiple areas – any one of which could be a sole career focus. “How many ID doctors are true experts in all of the following distinct topics? HIV, Clostridium difficile, respiratory tract infections, antimicrobial resistance, and anaerobic pulmonary infections.” Dr. Sax writes.

Expertise that defined an era

In a piece reviewing the long history of infectious disease medicine at Johns Hopkins published in Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2014, Paul Auwaerter, MD, and colleagues describe his tenure at the institution from 1980 to 2006 as “The Bartlett Era,” notable for the many advances he spearheaded.

“It is nearly impossible to find someone trained in infectious diseases in the past 30 years who has not been impacted by John Bartlett,” Dr. Auwaerter and colleagues note. “His tireless devotion to scholarship, teaching, and patient care remains an inspiration to his faculty members at Johns Hopkins, his colleagues, and coworkers around the world.”

Dr. Bartlett was not only a faculty member in the division of infectious diseases, he also helped establish it. When he joined Johns Hopkins, the infectious disease department featured just three faculty members with a research budget of less than $285,000. By the time he left 26 years later, the division had 44 faculty members on tenure track and a research budget exceeding $40 million.


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