Allison McGeer

Last updated
Allison McGeer
Alma mater University of Toronto (BS, MSc, MD)
Known forPandemic response
Scientific career
Institutions Sinai Health System
Dalla Lana School of Public Health
Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute
Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology at the University of Toronto

Allison McGeer FRCPC (born 1953) is a Canadian infectious disease specialist in the Sinai Health System, and a Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto. She also appointed at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and a Senior Clinician Scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute. McGeer has led investigations into the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in Toronto and worked alongside Donald Low. During the COVID-19 pandemic, McGeer has studied how SARS-CoV-2 survives in the air.


Early life and education

In 1974, McGeer earned a B.Sc. in biochemistry from the University of Toronto. [1] She earned a master's degree and then an M.D. in 1982. [1] [2] She trained in internal medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Toronto. From 1989 to 1990, McGeer was a clinical fellow in hospital epidemiology at Yale New Haven Hospital. [2]


In 1989, McGeer joined the Sinai Health System, where she specialised in microbiology. [2] She holds a joint position as Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology and of Infectious Diseases at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. [3]

At the University of Toronto she focussed on developing mechanisms to stop the spread of infectious diseases in hospitals and care homes. [2] [4] McGeer has studied the impact of influenza on hospital staff. She encouraged people of all ages to receive the universal flu vaccine and supported hospitals in improving their influenza testing. [5]

She is the director of infection control, and works as a microbiologist and infectious disease consultant at the Mount Sinai Hospital.

McGeer studies the prevention and management of bacterial and viral infections. [6] Her primary areas of research interest are the prevention of healthcare associated infection, the epidemiology of influenza, and adult immunization.


McGeer led the investigations into Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Toronto. [7] [8] [9] [10] She was based at the Ontario SARS emergency operation centre. At the time, she contracted the disease, [11] and accidentally exposed several other health officials to the disease. [12] The health officials were quarantined and did not develop the disease. The basic reproduction number of severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV) was between 2.2 and 3.7, but super-spreading events (highly efficient transmission of the virus) occurred in some hospital settings. [13] [14] McGeer believes that Toronto eliminated SARS by isolating people who were suffering or at risk from the virus, preventing its spread. [15] A study the critical care units of Toronto's hospitals found that the consistent use of N95 masks was an effective way to protect nurses. [13] [16] During the 2013 MERS outbreak, McGeer visited Saudi Arabia with the World Health Organization to help to track the spread of the virus. [17] [18] [19] Through careful monitoring of the air, food and water supply, McGeer helped to control the spread of the virus. [17]

COVID-19 pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic McGeer provided health advice to the Canadian public. [20] [21] [22] In late January 2020, McGeer expressed concerns over the ability to contain SARS-CoV-2, [23] [24] particularly the unknown incubation period, which makes it difficult to track and quarantine people who have been exposed. [25] In early March she emphasised the need for Canadians to follow public health advice to prevent the widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2. [26] According to McGeer the most important guidance was to limit social contact and stay at home when feeling unwell. [21] [26] [27]

In March 2020, McGeer started to investigate how long SARS-CoV-2 can survive in air. [28] She was interested in how exhaled droplets, which contain both water and the virus, may become an infective aerosol that is light enough to be transported by air currents. [28] Caroline Duchaine, an aerosol specialist at the Université Laval, thinks that the virus may not be as potent in aerosol form, losing parts of its spiky protein shell as it dries out in the air. [28] McGeer and Duchaine are interested in how the virus survives in air in a hospital setting, particularly around patients who are being intubated. [28] She hopes her research will provide insight as to whether face masks should be worn to reduce the transmission of the virus. [28] At the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were considering whether to advise members of the public to wear masks when they left the house, and they had been made mandatory in the Czech Republic. [29]



Selected works and publications

Related Research Articles

SARS Disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory disease of zoonotic origin caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, the first identified strain of the SARS coronavirus species severe acute respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus (SARSr-CoV). The first known cases occurred in November 2002, and the syndrome caused the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak. Around late 2017, Chinese scientists traced the virus through the intermediary of Asian palm civets to cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Xiyang Yi Ethnic Township, Yunnan.

Coronavirus Subfamily of viruses in the family Coronaviridae

Coronaviruses are a group of related RNA viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans and birds, they cause respiratory tract infections that can range from mild to lethal. Mild illnesses in humans include some cases of the common cold, while more lethal varieties can cause SARS, MERS and COVID-19, which is causing an ongoing pandemic. In cows and pigs they cause diarrhea, while in mice they cause hepatitis and encephalomyelitis.

Contact tracing Finding and identifying people in contact with someone with an infectious disease

In public health, contact tracing is the process of identifying persons who may have come into contact with an infected person ("contacts") and subsequent collection of further information about these contacts. By tracing the contacts of infected individuals, testing them for infection, isolating or treating the infected, and tracing their contacts, public health aims to reduce infections in the population. Diseases for which contact tracing is commonly performed include tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable infections like measles, sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne infections, Ebola, some serious bacterial infections, and novel virus infections. The goals of contact tracing are:

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 1 Virus that causes SARS

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 1 is a strain of coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the respiratory illness responsible for the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak. It is an enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA virus which infects the epithelial cells within the lungs. The virus enters the host cell by binding to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. It infects humans, bats, and palm civets.

Airborne transmission Disease transmission by airborne particles

Airborne or aerosol transmission is transmission of an infectious disease through small particles suspended in the air. Infectious diseases capable of airborne transmission include many of considerable importance both in human and veterinary medicine. The relevant infectious agent may be viruses, bacteria, or fungi, and they may be spread through breathing, talking, coughing, sneezing, raising of dust, spraying of liquids, flushing toilets, or any activities which generate aerosol particles or droplets.

Novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a provisional name given to coronaviruses of medical significance before a permanent name is decided upon. Although coronaviruses are endemic in humans and infections normally mild, such as the common cold, cross-species transmission has produced some unusually virulent strains which can cause viral pneumonia and in serious cases even acute respiratory distress syndrome and death.

MERS Viral respiratory infection

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory infection caused by Middle East respiratory syndrome–related coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Symptoms may range from none, to mild, to severe. Typical symptoms include fever, cough, diarrhea, and shortness of breath. The disease is typically more severe in those with other health problems.

COVID-19 Contagious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first known case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The disease has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Dale Fisher Australian physician (born 1960)

Dale Andrew Fisher FRACP is an Australian physician who specialises in Infectious Diseases and is a Senior Consultant in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the National University Hospital, Singapore. He is also a Professor of Medicine at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, the chair of the National Infection Prevention and Control Committee through the Ministry of Health, Singapore, and chair of the steering committee of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network hosted by the World Health Organization.

Bonnie Henry Canadian public health officer

Bonnie J. Fraser Henry is a Canadian physician who is the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, the first woman in this position. Henry is also a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia. She was a family doctor and is a specialist in public health and preventive medicine.

Samira Mubareka is a Canadian microbiologist who is a clinical scientist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario. Her research considers the influenza virus, viral transmission and aerobiology. During the COVID-19 pandemic Mubareka isolated the genome of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome COronaVirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in an effort to improve detection and diagnostics.

Helen Branswell is a Canadian infectious diseases and global health reporter at Stat News. Branswell spent fifteen years as a medical reporter at The Canadian Press. She led coverage of the Ebola, Zika, SARS and swine flu pandemics, as well as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Eleni Nastouli is a Greek clinical virologist who works at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and Great Ormond Street Hospital. At UCLH, Nastouli leads the Advanced Pathogen Diagnostics Unit, where she develops technologies for genome sequencing as well as studying how viruses are transmitted around hospitals. During the COVID-19 pandemic Nastouli led an investigation into infection rates amongst healthcare workers.

Eleanor N. Fish is a Canadian immunologist who is a Professor of Immunology at the University of Toronto. Her research considers how cytokines and chemokines interact with receptors in cells and tissue. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Fish tested interferon-alpha as a treatment for coronavirus disease.

Helen Y. Chu is an American immunologist who is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington. Her research considers maternal immunization, with a focus on influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Chu was the first physician to recognise community transmission of the coronavirus disease within the United States.

Transmission of COVID-19 Mechanisms that spread coronavirus disease 2019

The transmission of COVID-19 is the passing of coronavirus disease 2019 from person to person. COVID-19 is mainly transmitted when people breathe in air contaminated by droplets and small airborne particles containing the virus. Infected people exhale those particles as they breathe, talk, cough, sneeze, or sing. Transmission is more likely when people are physically close. However, infection can occur over longer distances, particularly indoors.

History of coronavirus

The history of coronaviruses is a reflection of the discovery of the diseases caused by coronaviruses and identification of the viruses. It starts with the first report of a new type of upper-respiratory tract disease among chickens in North Dakota, U.S., in 1931. The causative agent was identified as a virus in 1933. By 1936, the disease and the virus were recognised as unique from other viral disease. They became known as infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), but later officially renamed as Avian coronavirus.

Alberto Paniz-Mondolfi Venezuelan scientist

Alberto E. Paniz-Mondolfi MD, MSc, PhD, FFTM RCPS (Glasg) is a Venezuelan pathologist, epidemiologist, and molecular medicine researcher. Currently he is a pathologist and assistant professor in New York City and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Mount Sinai Morningside and Mount Sinai West Hospitals and Mount Sinai Hospital. Also, he is the Academic Director and Founder of The Venezuelan Science Incubator (, a group focused on infectious diseases research and awareness based in Venezuela.

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  1. 1 2 "Pandemic 3.0". University of Toronto Medicine Magazine. Faculty of Medicine. 26 March 2014.
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  13. 1 2 Poutanen, Susan M.; McGeer, Allison J. (2004). "Transmission and Control of SARS". Current Infectious Disease Reports. 6 (3): 220–227. doi:10.1007/s11908-004-0012-7. ISSN   1523-3847. PMC   7089465 . PMID   15142486.
  14. Raboud, Janet; Shigayeva, Altynay; McGeer, Allison; Bontovics, Erika; Chapman, Martin; Gravel, Denise; Henry, Bonnie; Lapinsky, Stephen; Loeb, Mark; McDonald, L. Clifford; Ofner, Marianna (2010-05-19). "Risk Factors for SARS Transmission from Patients Requiring Intubation: A Multicentre Investigation in Toronto, Canada". PLOS ONE. 5 (5): e10717. Bibcode:2010PLoSO...510717R. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010717. ISSN   1932-6203. PMC   2873403 . PMID   20502660.
  15. "WORLD: How doctors trace an outbreak". Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  16. Loeb, Mark; McGeer, Allison; Henry, Bonnie; Ofner, Marianna; Rose, David; Hlywka, Tammy; Levie, Joanne; McQueen, Jane; Smith, Stephanie; Moss, Lorraine; Smith, Andrew (2004). "SARS among Critical Care Nurses, Toronto". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 10 (2): 251–255. doi:10.3201/eid1002.030838. ISSN   1080-6040. PMC   3322898 . PMID   15030692.
  17. 1 2 "The mysteries of microbiology: Q&A with Professor Allison McGeer | Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology --- University of Toronto". Archived from the original on 2020-04-06. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
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  24. Branswell,STAT, Helen. "Experts Warn of Possible Sustained Global Spread of New Coronavirus". Scientific American. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  25. "Containing new coronavirus may not be feasible, experts say". STAT. 2020-01-26. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  26. 1 2 Miller, Adam. "'The time is now to act': COVID-19 spreading in Canada with no known link to travel, previous cases". CBC News. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  27. Ireland, Nicole. "COVID-19: The latest guidance for Canadians on travel, quarantines and what to do if you have symptoms". 2020-03-12. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 "Scientists look for signs of air transmission of COVID-19". The Globe and Mail Inc. 2 April 2020. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
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  30. "Toronto's 30 Best Doctors". Toronto Life. 2014-03-05. Retrieved 2020-04-06.
  31. "May Cohen Award for Women Mentors". Canadian Medical Association. 2015.
  32. "AMMI Canada Lifetime Achievement Award". Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada. 2016.
  33. "Norman Rosenblum Award for Excellence in Mentorship in the MD/PhD Program". University of Toronto MD Program. 2021.