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Sherif Zaki (1955–2021), CDC pathologist who studied Ebola, COVID-19

by Linnea Crowther

Sherif Zaki was a pathologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who studied infectious diseases including Ebola, SARS, and COVID-19.

Infectious diseases

Zaki began working for the CDC in 1988, founding the Infectious Disease Pathology Branch. There, he worked to identify and study the new pathogens that can lead to deadly outbreaks. Zaki was the first to identify the hantavirus in the Southwest U.S. in 1993, and he helped prove that Zika virus can be transmitted during pregnancy in the 2015-16 outbreak. Zaki identified anthrax included in a series of letters in 2001 that was deemed a bioterrorism attack. He studied Ebola and SARS, working to learn what made them so frequently fatal. And in 2020, he and his team began their exhaustive study of COVID-19, working to learn more about the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease. Among the aspects of SARS-CoV2 that Zaki studied were breakthrough infections and the virus’s effects on pregnancy.

Notable quote

“We go into the basic of how a disease happens, the mechanism. Putting pieces together. Solving puzzles. Looking at the unknown and trying to figure out what it is.” —from a 2016 interview for Stat


Tributes to Sherif Zaki

Full obituary: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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