Besides his wife – Nadia Abougad when they were married – he is survived by a daughter, Yasmin; one son, Samy; and two sisters, Dorreya and Safa.
Dr Zaki graduated second in his class of 800 from the Alexandria Faculty of Medicine in Egypt in 1978. But he was less interested in the practice of medicine than in uncovering mysteries, which was an obsession for him since he was captivated by the novels of British writer Enid Blyton as a child.
This obsession was at the heart of his work at the CDC. “We’re getting into the basics of how a disease occurs, the mechanism,” he said in an interview with Stat, a medical website, in 2016. “Put the pieces together. Solve puzzles. “
Dr Zaki obtained a master’s degree in pathology from the University of Alexandria. But since autopsies were not permitted 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 at the CDC and became a naturalized US citizen.
Described by James LeDuc, a former colleague, as “A sort of secret weapon for much of what has been done at the CDC on emerging diseases,” Dr. Zaki has received nine times the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service, the highest distinction of the department.
“What set him apart as a researcher was creativity, collaboration, a solid scientific methodology and a large knowledge base. “Dr Inger K. Damon, from the CDC’s National Center for Emerging Infectious and Zoonotic Diseases, said in an email.
Dr Zaki had no illusions that his job would one day be over.
“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 anything 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.”