In 2006, the Southwest Conference on Diseases in Nature Transmissible to Man was named for the co-founder of the conference, Dr. James H. Steele.
Dr. Steele received a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University in 1941 and a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University in 1942, the only veterinarian in a class full of physicians. While working in a brucellosis testing laboratory for the Michigan State Department of Agriculture from 1938-41, he became interested in zoonotic diseases.
He founded the first veterinary public health program at the U.S. Public Health Service, where he served for 26 years. In 1963, he received the service’s Meritorious Service Award for his contributions to the field of public health. In 1968 he was named Assistant Surgeon General for Veterinary Affairs.
Dr. Steele was a pioneer in integrating veterinary health into public health agencies such as the Pan American Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Among the many and varied contributions Dr. Steele made during his professional career, perhaps one of the most significant involved the control of food-borne diseases. In particular, Dr. Steele was an advocate of food irradiation, which he believed would prevent E. coli outbreaks, among other illnesses.
In 2006, Dr. Steele received the Abraham Horowitz Award for Leadership in Inter-American Health. This prestigious award from the Pan American Health and Education Foundation recognized Dr. Steele’s life-long contributions to veterinary public health, specifically “zoonotic” diseases that transfer from animals to humans.
Until his death on November 10, 2013, Dr. Steele remained active within his profession as Professor Emeritus, University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health. He joined the UT School of Public Health’s Infectious Disease Center in 1971. He is the namesake of the school’s “James H. Steele Lecture” series, which was established to recognize his contributions and leadership in the fields of infectious disease and zoonotic diseases.