(From the New York Times, July 18, 2004)
Dr. WIlliam W. Stead, a scientist and health administrator whose studies of tuberculosis in nursing homes suggested that blacks could have a genetic susceptibility to the disease, died July 8 at his home in Little Rock, Ark. He was 85.
The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease, said his son, Dr. Richard B. Stead.
Dr. Stead was the principal author of a 1990 study involving 165 nursing homes in Arkansas, where he was director of the State Department of Health's tuberculosis program for 25 years before retiring in 1998.
The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, received national attention when it found that black patients were infected at nearly twice the rate of whites in the homes, or a rate of 13.8 percent compared with 7.2 percent. Because the patients ate the same food and lived in similar conditoins, Dr. Stead theorized that a genetic factor within lung cells could explain the differing levels of resistance. His theory challenged explanations that pointed to purely environmental causes.
Dr. Lee B. Reichman, executive director of the National Tuberculosis Center at New Jersey Medical School, said the theory remained an open question, "but is a landmark and still viable."
"Stead's study was impressive and not politically correct at the time," Dr. Reichman said. "We are still asking the same question about what causes one person to go on and get active tuberculosis, and one not to."
In earlier work in pulmonology in the 1950's, Dr. Stead and H.S. Wells devised the Stead-Wells spirometer, which is used to measure pulmonary function in lung patients.
William White Stead was born Jan. 4, 1919 in Decatur, Ga. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Emory University before becoming an instructor at the University of Cincinnati in 1947. He taught at the universities of Minnesota and Florida, and then at Marquette University from 1960 to 1972.
The University of Arkansas named him a professor of medicine in 1972. The next year, he also became director of the state's tuberculosis program. In 1988, Dr. Stead was awarded the Trudeau Medal of the American Thoracic Society and American Lung Association. He received the James D. Bruce Award from the American College of Physicians in the smae year.
Dr. Stead was a consultant in disease control for several state prisons and was a former president of the American Federation for Clinical Research. He served on the editorial board of the Annals of Internal Medicine and contributed to more than 150 academic papers.
Dr. Stead's first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wire, the former Joan DeVore of Little Rock, a brother, Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr. of Bullock N.C.; a son, Richard, of Bellevue, Wash.; two grandchildren; and three step children.