Maria Van Kerkhove Wiki, Age, Husband, Children, Family, Biography & More

Maria Van Kerkhove is an infectious disease epidemiologist who works with the World Health Organization (WHO) as Scientist, Technical Lead MERS-CoV. She specializes in outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging pathogens. Dr. Van Kerkhove is from the United States and lives in Geneva Switzerland. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she became a regular face in press conferences by the WHO for routine updates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.


Maria Van Kerkhove (formerly DeJoseph) was born on Sunday, February 20, 1977 (age 43 years; as in 2020), in the United States. She is a native of New Hartford, New York. [1] She grew up inspired by tales of virus hunters and epidemiologists chronicled in Richard Preston books. While attending New Hartford High School in New York, it was her AP Biology teacher who sparked in her an interest in science and set her on a path to Cornell, Stanford, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. While talking about her interest in studying viruses, Dr. Van Kerkhove says,

I loved the idea of studying viruses and pathogens and how they evolve with people. I love the sort of detective work around that.”

In 1999, she completed her undergraduate degree in biological sciences at Cornell University. After receiving an MS Degree in epidemiology from Stanford University School of Medicine in 2000, Maria Van Kerkhove pursued a PhD in infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2009. [2] While pursuing her PhD, she wrote her thesis on the avian flu in Cambodia.

Physical Appearance

Height (approx.): 5′ 4″

Hair Color: Medium Ash Blonde

Eye Color: Hazel Brown

Family & Ethnicity

Maria Van Kerkhove belongs to a white American family.

Parents & Siblings

Maria Van Kerkhove was born to Mary (mother) and Peter Joseph (father). Her parents belong to Cedar Lake, a town in Hanover and Center townships, Lake County, Indiana, United States. She has a twin sister Alisa. [3]

Relationships, Husband & Children

Maria Van Kerkhove got married to Neil James Van Kerkhove on September 13, 2003, in Manhattan, New York. [4]

Maria Van Kerkhove’s Husband Neil James Van Kerkhove

She has two sons. One of her sons’ name is Cole. [5]


After spending her college summers studying the way indigenous people use plants for medicinal purposes in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela, Dr. Van Kerkhove worked at a consulting firm in New York for five years where she learned to synthesize as much information as possible in evaluating risks. [6] Her Ph.D. thesis on the avian flu sent her to Cambodia where she studied H5N1 influenza. Dr. Van Kerkhove spent her days in Cambodia surveying live animal markets and mapping how a virus might spread through a community. After the global outbreak of H1N1 in 2009, Dr. Van Kerkhove joined the WHO’s flu team in April 2009 where she worked in close quarters with academic modelers and analytics experts and public health experts.

From left, Michael Ryan, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Professor Didier Houssin, and Maria van Kerkhove

From March 2009 to January 2015, she was a research fellow at Imperial College London where she worked in Medical Research Council Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling. In January 2015, she joined the Center for Global Health at Institut Pasteur as the Head of the Outbreak Investigation Task Force where she conducted field research on respiratory viruses and emerging/re-emerging viruses, such as Ebola and Marburg. During her stint at the Institut Pasteur, the Paris-based network of global health organizations, Dr. Van Kerkhove set up rapid response and investigation teams, which were aimed at detecting new outbreaks around the world.

Maria Van Kerkhove (2nd from left) Attending the 2017 Institut Pasteur OMI Seminar in Pandemics

In 2017, she moved permanently to the WHO, and since then, she has been holding the post of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) Technical Lead in the World Health Organization’s Health Emergency Program, in the High Threat Pathogens Unit.

Maria Van Kerkhove as Techincal Lead WHO

While talking about her career dealing with high-threat pathogens, Dr. Van Kerkhove says,

The theme of my life has been around viruses and emerging pathogens and how do we study their emergence from animals to humans, and how do we stop it.”

A Regular Face of WHO

Since Maria Van Kerkhove moved permanently to the WHO in 2017, her portfolio has grown to include a frightening roster of zoonotic diseases that can jump from animals to humans; caused by high-threat pathogens, such as SARS, Zika, chikungunya, bubonic plague, and smallpox. Amid the worldwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she became a regular face in press conferences by the WHO for routine updates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maria Van Kerkhove During the WHO Press Conference

According to Dr. Van Kerkhove, when she first time sat before a room full of reporters on January 14, 2020, she was a little nervous; however, within a few months, she looked like the savvy veteran. In virtual press conferences, which she attends three times a week, she spends more than an hour interacting with reporters.


Dr. Van Kerkhove is known for translating the dense scientific jargon and other significant developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic into lay terms. While talking about her press conference experience during an exclusive interview to The Hill, she said,

The responsibility that we have with these press conferences is to inform the public, and I want to do that in a measured, responsible way. Speaking to scientists, you can use certain language. But speaking in a press conference, I’m speaking to my grandmother, who passed away. She’s no longer there, but she would be so proud.”

Maria Van Kerkhove While Interacting With Media Personnel

Favorite Things

  • Writer: Richard Preston
  • Film: Outbreak (1995)
  • Athlete: Nary Ly
  • Music Band: The Ruse
  • Singer: Courtney Freed
  • TV Show: So You Think You Can Dance (2005)


  • In her leisure time, she loves doing photography.
  • After her marriage, she extended her name as Maria Rosanne DeJoseph Van Kerkhove.
  • Dr. Van Kerkhove has many publications and research papers to her name. These publications have been mentioned in various acclaimed journals across the globe.
  • The main research interests of Dr. Van Kerkhove include zoonotic, respiratory, and emerging/re-emerging viruses, such as avian influenza, MERS-CoV, Ebola, Marburg, and Zika.
  • She is mainly interested in investigating factors associated with transmission between animals and humans, studying the epidemiology of zoonotic pathogens.
  • She spent her college summers in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Venezuela; studying the way indigenous people use plants for medicinal purposes alongside the ethnobotanist Eloy Rodriguez.
  • Dr. Van Kerkhove holds an honorary lecturer position at Imperial College London.
  • She is also a leading member of CONSISE (the Consortium for the Standardization of Influenza Seroepidemiology), a global partnership that aims to develop influenza investigation protocols and standardize seroepidemiology to inform health policy.
  • In 2013, she joined WHO as a technical consultant and a member of the MERS-CoV task force.
  • To better understand the COVID-19 outbreak, Maria Van Kerkhove spent two weeks in China where she tried to figure out how China was utilizing its resources to control the virus.
  • When Trump criticized WHO; following which the WHO came under increasing fire from conservatives in Washington, Maria Van Kerkhove said,

    I try to stay out of the politics because I’m the technical person, but it’s disappointing to see, it’s disappointing to hear.”

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