Sherif Zaki, a legendary disease detective at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who had a photographic memory and a knack for cracking hard cases, has died.
Name a newly emerged or vexing infectious pathogen and chances are Zaki played a role in identifying it or tying it to a mysterious outbreak that was defying investigation. He and his team pinpointed Zika virus in the brain tissues of miscarried fetuses, found the hantavirus later named Sin Nombre in the first known hantavirus outbreak in the United States, and confirmed that anthrax was responsible for early deaths in what would become a spate of attacks that petrified the country in the autumn of 2001.
The CDC announced Zaki’s death to staff on Monday. The cause of death was not provided but Inger Damon, director of the division of high-consequence pathogens and pathology and Zaki’s supervisor, told STAT it was “sudden and unexpected.”
A native of Alexandria, Egypt, Zaki would have turned 66 on Wednesday.