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Alumnus is working front lines of Ebola outbreak in West Africa

Loyola press release - December 10, 2014

Shortly after he graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in 1999, Joseph Fair was featured in an issue of Loyola's almuni magazine.

Wearing his white lab coat and proud of his recent bachelor's degree in biology, Fair was about to depart for Africa where he had great plans to save the world. And that's pretty much what he has been trying to do for the past 15 years.

Fair is one of the world's foremost molecular virologists with the World Health Organization, often sent to the "hot zones" when infectious diseases break out. He recently spent several months on the front lines in West Africa, battling one of the worst outbreaks in history of the deadly Ebola virus. He was one of several volunteers featured in a recent episode of CBS' 60 Minutes, which depicted the harsh realities of the difficult fight to save lives and stem the spread of the disease. The human toll has been high.

"I've been around outbreaks before, and people who die are never just faceless people," Fair said. "It's something you accept that happens for the greater good. But this was different for me. There were a lot of my very close friends, people I've known for many years."

Fair, a native of Kentucky, found his way to Loyola in 1996 after a brief stint at the University of Kentucky.

"It was a huge, public institution," Fair said of his first university experience. "There was no nurturing of the spirit. I looked into a bunch of different colleges and Loyola just felt like the right fit for me. I always loved New Orleans. I had a lot of extended family there. I loved the educational aspects, but I always loved the spirituality of the Jesuits—that 'set the world on fire' attitude."

Long-enamored by the world that is invisible to the naked eye, Fair majored in biology at Loyola and studied virology, which was not offered at Loyola at the time, at LSU Medical School.

"I was always fascinated with microbiology, even when I was young," Fair said. "I read about Louis Pasteur and became fascinated by the science of what you don't see."

After a few years doing missionary work and research in Africa, Fair returned to New Orleans to get a master's degree in public health in tropical medicine, followed by a doctorate in molecular biology, both from Tulane. Since then he has put his skills to work doing both research and activism in underdeveloped countries, fighting both diseases as well as public fear of them.

"I've always had a great adventurist spirit, and I've always had a desire to do work in Africa," Fair said. "I try to bring the Jesuit spirit with me. These are people, not a virus. They're not a danger to the world. People don't understand why we're going there. Well, we're going there, first of all, because it's the right thing to do. These are old people and children and whole families that are being wiped out. These are not our enemies, these are our allies. And this is not just an African problem."