Title: Professor of Biology
College/Institute: Liberal Arts and Sciences
Research interests: transmission of infectious diseases; patterns of pathogen transmission; disease ecology
Curriculum vitae: PDF
Hobbies: Biking, cooking, basketball, and spending time with his children
Dr. Derek Cummings came to the university under the UF Preeminence program, serving as a full professor for the department of biology and the Emerging Pathogens Institute. Prior to his arrival at the University of Florida he worked for the school of public health at Johns Hopkins University, where he was an associate professor in the school’s department of epidemiology. Cummings’ research focuses on identifying the factors that influence the spread of infectious diseases in order to develop strategies to control and curb their proliferation.
“I do a lot of work on outbreaks of emerging pathogens – I’ve done work with MERS, I’ve done work with Ebola, I’ve done work with novel influenza – looking at and characterizing transmission dynamics in the early days of outbreaks,” Cummings said. Particular areas of focus include the speed of transmission, patterns of transmission, and characterizing the natural history of a pathogen.
Cummings worked directly with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Liberia to mitigate Ebola’s impact on the small West African nation. Utilizing his expertise in transmission dynamics, he helped the ministry analyze patterns of transmission case numbers. Additionally, he and other colleagues collaborated to develop an infectious disease surveillance system that could be used to target Ebola and other infectious diseases before the diseases proliferate and become serious threats to public health.
He has also studied vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever, finding strong evidence through research on the virus’ transmission rates in Southeast Asia that rising temperatures decrease the dengue virus’ incubation period in infected mosquitoes. Given the relatively short life of a mosquito, this shorter incubation period leads to an increase in the number of mosquitoes that can infect humans.
Cummings’ work with emerging pathogens spans several nations, including southern China, Thailand, Liberia, Senegal, and Saudi Arabia. Though he has examined a variety of diseases, the bulk of his research has focused on the dengue virus and influenza.
In southern China he studied influenza A and patterns of transmission between rural and urban areas. In Saudi Arabia he studied Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). In Senegal he studied transmission of the dengue virus in non-human primate species – baboons, red monkeys, and green monkeys.
Humans and non-human primates harbor different strains of the dengue virus, yet humans can contract non-human primate strains in situations where infected mosquitoes are able to move between populations. Villages neighboring non-human primate populations can come into contact with mosquitoes carrying non-human strains of the dengue virus and potentially contract strains adapted to non-human primate species.
Cummings has conducted extensive research on pathogens in the United States as well. He was the principal investigator in a study of seasonal shifts in transmission of influenza A, influenza B, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Outside of work, he enjoys biking, basketball, and spending time with his wife and two sons.
Phone: (352) 273-6555