Dr. Kilbourne has spent his professional lifetime in the study of infectious diseases, with particular reference to virus infections. His early studies of Coxsackievirus and herpes simplex preceded intensive study of influenza in all of its manifestations. His primary contributions have been to the understanding of influenza virus structure and genetics and the practical application of these studies to the development of influenza vaccines and to the understanding of the molecular epidemiology and pathogenesis of influenza.
Following his graduation from Cornell University Medical College in 1944, and an internship and residency at the New York Hospital, he served two years in the Army of the United States. After three years at the Rockefeller Institute, he served successively as Associate Professor of Medicine at Tulane University, as Professor of Public Health at Cornell University Medical College, and as founding Chairman of the Department of Microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine at which he was awarded the rank of Distinguished Service Professor. before assuming his final academic position of Research Professor at New York Medical College, from which he retired in 2002 as Emeritus Professor..
Kilbourne is a member of The National Academy of Sciences, the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering and the American Philosophical Society. He is the recipient of an honorary degree from Rockefeller University, and the Borden Award for Outstanding Research in Medical Sciences as well as a number of other awards.
As an avocation, Kilbourne has written and published light poetry and essays, and articles for the laity on various aspects of biological science.including a compilation of light verse, Strategies of Sex originally published in the late Saturdau Review and elsewhere.