Catherine Wilfert was born July 26, 1936, in Inglewood, California. She graduated from Stanford College in 1958 with distinction and attended Harvard Medical School where she graduated cum laude. Dr. Wilfert's internship was at Boston Children's Hospital, and her residency was at North Carolina Baptist Hospital. In 1964, Dr. Wilfert returned to Boston where she continued to work in pediatrics and medicine. In 1969, she came to Duke University School of Medicine, where she achieved the rank of division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in the Department of Pediatrics (1976-1994) and professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. In 1996, she left Duke to become the scientific director of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Dr. Wilfert's work since the onset of AIDS has primarily been focused on the eradication of pediatric AIDS, and she is considered a seminal investigator in the field. Her clinical trial group demonstrated the efficacy of using doses of AZT to reduce the incidence of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Due to the application of this knowledge, pediatric AIDS in the United States has been reduced by 75 percent. Dr. Wilfert now works to reduce mother-to-infant transmission of AIDS in developing countries around the world. She is also currently the chair of the Perinatal Working Group for the Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), sponsored by NIH.
Dr. Wilfert has been on the editorial board of numerous publications and has served as a consultant for private companies as well as US and state governments. In 1999, she became only the second woman President in the history of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. She is the recipient of many awards including the Award of Recognition for Outstanding Contributions to Advancing the Prevention of Perinatal Transmission at A Global Strategies Conference for the Prevention of HIV Transmission from Mothers to Infants in 1997. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award in HIV from the Third International Meeting on HIV in India in 2001, and was given the Distinguished Award of Honor for Love of Humanity Especially in the Third World from the Cameroon Baptist Convention on Occasion of Its 50th Anniversary Celebration, in 2004. She was inducted to the Institute of Medicine in 1999.