Chasing Viruses: Adventures of an Infectious Disease Cowboy
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2010

Joseph B. McCormick, MD, MS

Brownsville Regional Campus, School of Public Health, University of Texas, Brownsville, TX, USA

Read the Spanish translation: Cazando Virus: Aventuras de un Vaquero de Enfermedades Infecciosas

Brief Biography

Joseph B. McCormick, MD is Regional Dean, Brownsville campus of the University of Texas School of Public Health. He was raised on a farm in Indiana. After graduating cum laude from Florida Southern College with majors in chemistry and mathematics, he attended the Alliance Francaise and the Free University in Brussels in preparation for teaching sciences and mathematics in French in a secondary school in the Congo. There in the local hospital he was introduced to medicine, particularly tropical medicine. He entered Duke Medical School in 1967, graduating in 1971 with an intercalated MS from Harvard School of Public Health (1970). His internship and residency were at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia under Dr. C. Everett Koop. In 1974, he became an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer (EIS), at the CDC, and a fellow in Preventive Medicine. He was a PAHO/CDC consultant for the Brazilian government for the extensive meningitis outbreaks of 1974 and 1976.

In 1977, he went to West Africa to found the CDC Lassa fever Research Project in Sierra Leone, where he received an emergency call to join the team investigating the first Ebola epidemic in 1976 and again in 1979. In Sierra Leone, he conducted extensive and definitive studies of the epidemiology and treatment of Lassa hemorrhagic fever, publishing a landmark publication in the New England Journal of Medicine on effective antiviral treatment for this disease. He returned to Atlanta in 1979 and became Chief, Special Pathogens Branch, Division of Viral Diseases at the CDC, directing the biosafety level 4 laboratories for 9 years. He became involved in AIDS and led the original team that did the first AIDS investigation in Africa and established the Project SIDA in Kinshasa, Zaire, and later the Project Retro-Ci in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He coauthored numerous papers in major journals, including Science, and established a key point in the natural history of HIV infection in Africa by testing specimens saved in his laboratory from the 1976 Ebola outbreak from which the oldest HIV virus was isolated. In 1983, he identified the virus that causes hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (hantavirus) in his laboratory at CDC. He later did pioneering work on the epidemiology and virology of hantavirus, Lassa virus and Ebola virus.

In 1993, he became Chairman, Community Health Sciences Department, at the Aga Khan University Medical School (AKU) where he established an epidemiology program, resembling the CDC Field Epidemiology Training Programs, and a master’s degree in epidemiology. Over 45 papers have now been published by faculty and trainees from this period. In 1997, he moved to France where he founded epidemiology programs for the Institute Pasteur and for Aventis Pasteur. He returned to the U.S. in 2001 to start a new regional campus of the UT Houston School of Public Health in Brownsville, Texas where he is the Regional Dean and the James H. Steele professor of epidemiology. His awards include the USPHS Meritorious Service Medal, and humanitarian awards from Florida Southern College and Duke University Medical School, and Friend of Public Health award from the Texas DSHS. Dr. McCormick has over 220 scientific publications with coauthors from over 20 different countries. He has acted as reviewer for many journals, and has contributed to television, newspapers, and periodicals and is featured in several books for the lay reader (e.g., The Coming Plague, The Hot Zone). With his wife, Sue Fisher-Hoch he coauthored a popular account (Level 4, Virus Hunters of the CDC) of their adventures that was translated into seven languages and has been reissued in hard cover and paperback. He is an accomplished amateur pianist, and enjoys outdoor activities such as running, backpacking, skiing, and fly-fishing.


Speaker Information
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Joseph B. McCormick, MD, MS
Brownsville Regional Campus
School of Public Health
University of Texas
Brownsville, TX, USA

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