A Portrait of Roberto Burioni: Italy’s Best-known Virologist

In Italy, Roberto Burioni was one of the first scientists to raise the alarm about the coronavirus outbreak, but his messages went unheeded at first.

In Italy, Roberto Burioni was one of the first scientists to raise the alarm about the coronavirus outbreak, but his messages went unheeded at first.


Burioni is a professor of microbiology and virology at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, where he runs a lab developing human monoclonal antibodies against human infectious agents, the study of pathogen-host interplay, and the use of molecular tools in the early diagnosis of infectious diseases.

In 2016 he began an unlikely media career, becoming the country’s best known viroligist due to a high profile battle with the opponents of vaccination. In just a few years, he has gone from being a respected but little-known professor to a major media personality and an internet savvy advocate for science. In a country where the government has sometimes promoted dubious medicine, such as unproven stem cell therapies, Burioni has become an outspoken advocate for scientific evidence on vaccines and other medical topics, and a harsh critic of pseudoscience. 

As soon as the coronavirus spread to Italy, Burioni promptly declared that the virus was much more serious than a common flu, and that quarantine represented an appropriate measure for infected persons — contrary to what some sources of information were arguing. In particular, Burioni strongly supported the measures taken by the Italian government to limit contagion such as school closures and the suspension of public events, trying to convince people it is the only way to get out of this situation

Through his Facebook page and his blog Medical Facts, Burioni and his team provide accurate scientific information about a variety of topics, such as vaccination, but also food habits, children, etc. Information is always short, clear and precise and accessible to the general public, but also accompanied by reliable scientific sources.

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