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Virologists, ball players and Basques headed to Boise in July

Boise, the virologists are coming.

About 525 university and industry researchers, clinicians and students from all over the world will descend on the Treasure Valley in late July.

Organizers of the International Herpesvirus Workshop plan their annual conferences — when experts in the field gather to share research and ideas — several years in advance. The group first contacted the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau about the possibility of the city hosting its 40th annual workshop in the fall of 2011.

“I love the West. For a summer meeting, I thought that would be great,” said David Bloom, a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine. “I looked around Oregon, and I heard a number of people talk about Boise — that it’s a really nice town and has a convention center. I went out and checked it out and fell in love with it.”

“I love walking along the Greenbelt,” Bloom said. “It’s really relaxing.”

The herpes experts will be here for serious science: There are eight herpes viruses that cause disease in humans — including cancer, shingles and mononucleosis — or can result in birth defects.

It won’t be all work and no play. The researchers are going to raft the Payette, float the Boise River and visit the World Center for Birds of Prey. A special dinner is planned at the Boise Depot.

The convention runs July 25 to 29 at the Boise Centre, overlapping with the first two days of Jaialdi, the six-day Basque cultural festival that starts July 28. Events associated with Jaialdi draw thousands of participants, but hard numbers on how many visitors come from outside the region are not available.

This year, about 1,000 people are expected to travel from the Basque country alone, Jaialdi spokeswoman Julie Hahn said. The event attracts tour groups from around the Northwest, said Lisa Edens, senior sales manager for the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“It just keeps growing and growing and growing,” Edens said.

Hotel rooms may be especially hard to come by during the last week of July this year, with another large event happening in the city that week. Seventy teams are participating in the ASA Girl’s 14U Class A Fastpitch Western National Tournament. Edens said the estimated number of people associated with that event is 1,000.

SCIENTISTS FROM MANY COUNTRIES

Lee Fortunato, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Idaho, is one of three co-organizers for the International Herpesvirus Workshop.

“I’m really excited to show off my home state,” Fortunato said.

Fortunato’s research focus is cytomegalovirus — one of the leading causes of birth defects in babies, including hearing loss, vision loss and small brain size.

Conference participants are coming from 14 countries, including Japan, China, Australia, Finland, Norway, England and France. Bloom said he did not see any registrants on the list from the Basque country.

Bloom and Fortunato were both involved in site visits to Boise to see if the convention center and other accommodations would meet their needs. They said the availability and quality of dorms at Boise State University was a big plus — students and others will stay there.

“They’re very different from the dorms I was in as an undergrad,” said Bloom, describing his living space at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as “a small cinderblock room with no air conditioning.”

About 140 research papers will be presented during the conference. Participants also will show off their work on posters, which will be on display in the Boise Centre throughout the week. Poster presentations are typically done after dinner, Fortunato said.

A group of scientists who are “closet musicians” will play at the Reef one night during the conference, Fortunato said. Their group is called Herpetic Legion.

“We get together every year,” said Fortunato, who is a singer. “We do a lot of different stuff, mostly kind of old-style rock ’n’ roll, blues, R&B, and toss in some new stuff to keep the kids excited.”

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