BETHANY, W.Va. – The virus transmission research of the Bethany College assistant biology professor is taking on a new level of recognition in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Karen KormuthDr. Karen Kormuth’s translational research relates specifically to the spread of influenza, but it is also beneficial as scientists and health professionals grapple with understanding the novel coronavirus.

“People actually realize that it’s important now,” Kormuth said. “It’s a new level of understanding among students.”

Kormuth joined Bethany’s faculty in 2019 after completing postdoctoral research on infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh under the guidance of Dr. Seema Lakdawala, an assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.

While at Pitt, Kormuth identified a role for human airway mucus in the stabilization of influenza viruses released into the environment, both in the air and on surfaces.

“This type of research is important because it allows us to make better decisions,” Kormuth said. “If we use the research and make changes, we can limit the spread, whether it be flu or coronavirus.”

A similar surge of interest in virus spread occurred in 2016 with news reports of the mosquito-borne Zika virus surrounding the Rio Olympics, but not to scale of COVID-19, Kormuth said.

“There’s a lot back of forth about how [COVID-19] spreads,” she said.
But there are still scientifically accepted actions that can be put into practice to reduce COVID-19, she said, noting

increased ventilation, frequent hand-washing, and wearing masks.

In addition to continuing her collaboration with Pitt and Lakdawala, Kormuth is working with four Bethany biology majors – senior Shae Reinbeau and juniors Kevin Pollock, Crystal Ford, and Antonio Caputo – on research using model viruses on the Bethany campus.

“The students have been great in getting the experiments up and running,” Kormuth said. “Some of the students are working remotely and some are working in the lab at different times. It’s just been a really positive experience.”

The biology majors all took in Kormuth’s microbiology class and are working their senior projects in the field. Their projects are all related to virus spread, but each takes a narrower focus, studying the effect of temperature, droplet size, human mucus, and humidity.

The juniors involved are part of an effort to encourage students to get an early start on their projects and get more “wet lab experience.”

“They get to develop a more comprehensive project,” Kormuth said. “It kind of builds a support system working there. Students who have been there a year or two can help the new ones. It helps the work flow a little better.”

Her research has also been put to use as Bethany navigates the college experience during COVID-19. Kormuth serves on Bethany’s Pandemic Response Team and was part of the Fall 2020 Contingencies Planning Group.

Kormuth also co-authored a research article, titled “Original antigenic sin priming of influenza virus hemagglutinin stalk antibodies,” that appeared in PNAS in July. She, along with her post-doctorate lab at the University of

Pittsburgh and another lab at the University of Pennsylvania, investigated immune response in ferrets and humans to multiple influenza virus infections.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.