In terms of sexually transmitted infections, we have discovered many new ones. We’ve identified ways of improved diagnosis, and improved treatment and prevention.
As a naval epidemiologist during the Vietnam War, Dr. King Holmes encountered a number of sailors with cases of “incurable gonorrhea,” untreatable using the common treatment of a shot of penicillin. Fresh out of medical school, Holmes found resistant strains of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in these men. This experience led Holmes into the previously neglected medical field of STDs.
Holmes arrived at UW in 1967 for his medical residency in internal medicine under the guidance of Marvin Turk, where he worked at the US Public Health Service hospital. Holmes decided to come to UW because of work being done on infectious disease. He found that STD rates were skyrocketing with sexual liberation, but nobody was working on STD research.
Holmes approached the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health (SKCDPH) about researching STDs, and SKCDPH agreed to play a role. As a result of Holmes’s collaboration with SKCDPH, UW became a center of STD research, and Holmes became the preeminent medical expert in the field. Most doctors specializing in STDs either trained with Holmes or with one of his trainees, making Holmes the “grandfather of STD research.”
Holmes led studies of STDs in the sex worker population and gay men, communities largely ignored by medical and public health researchers. Holmes also found that Seattle’s homeless were often crowded into overnight jail cells, which was causing the spread of diphtheria. The City of Seattle subsequently shifted homeless people to the Firland Sanatorium, which had previously been used to quarantine people with tuberculosis, and the diphtheria epidemic ended.
In the mid-1980s, Holmes was medical director at Harborview, in which capacity he oversaw the founding of the AIDS Clinic, the first such clinic in the Pacific Northwest. SKCDPH’s role in STD research made it a center for HIV/AIDS research relatively early.
When Holmes began researching STDs, only one textbook existed on the subject, listing six STDs. Today, there are 37 different STDs identified by medical professionals as a result of research done by Holmes and those who trained under him. UW and the University of California, San Francisco were the first two universities to study chlamydia infection, now the most common STD in the United States. Holmes’s trainees developed the first programs on the herpes virus and the human papilloma virus in the United States at UW. This research has resulted in greater understanding, treatment, and prevention of STDs.
King Holmes founded the UW Department of Global Health in 2006, which has produced 1200 MPH and PhD alumni working around the world on global health issues.