dr. Sherif R. Zaki, Acclaimed Disease Detective, Dies At 65


Besides his wife, he leaves behind a daughter, Yasmin; a son, Samy; and two sisters, Dorreya and Safa.

In 1978, he took second place in his class of 800 from Alexandria Medical School in Egypt. But he was less interested in practicing medicine than in unraveling mysteries, which had been an obsession of his since his childhood fascination with Enid Blyton’s novels.

That obsession was at the heart of his work at the CDC. “We’re going to get into the basics of how a disease develops, the mechanism,” he said in an interview with Stat, a medical website, in 2016. Solving puzzles.”

He holds a master’s degree in pathology from the University of Alexandria. But since autopsies were not allowed in Egypt for religious reasons, he did his residency in anatomical pathology at Emory University in Atlanta, where he also earned a doctorate in experimental pathology.

He then went to work for the CDC and became a naturalized American citizen.

Described by James LeDuc, a former colleague, as “A sort of secret weapon for much of what’s been done at CDC on emerging diseases,” he received the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service, the department’s highest honor, nine times.

“What distinguished him as a researcher was creativity, collaboration, solid scientific methodology and a broad knowledge base,” said Dr. Inger K. Damon of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases in an email.

dr. Zaki had no illusions that his work would ever be finished.

“We think we know everything,” he told The New York Times in 2007, “but we don’t know the tip of the iceberg.”

“There are so many viruses and bacteria that we don’t know about, that we don’t have tests for,” he added. “A hundred years from now, people won’t believe the number of pathogens we didn’t even know existed.”

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