Joseph McCormick

MD involved in researching and treating Ebola during the first three outbreaks in Africa


Joseph McCormick, MD,James H. Steele Professor and Regional Dean, University of Texas School of Public Health. Dr. McCormick was born in Tennessee and raised on a farm in Indiana. He graduated cum laude from Florida Southern College with majors in chemistry and mathematics. He lived in Brussels and attended the Alliance Francaise and the Free University for a year to acquire sufficient French to enable him to teach sciences and mathematics in a secondary school in the Congo (Kinshasa). He worked in the local hospital which introduced him to medicine, particularly tropical medicine. He entered Duke Medical School in 1967 from which he graduated in 1971, having also obtained an MS from Harvard School of Public Health in 1970. His did an internship and residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia under Dr. C. Everett Koop.


In 1974, Dr. McCormick became an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer (EIS) at the Centers for Disease Control. He was also a fellow in the Preventive Medicine Residency Program at the CDC. As an EIS officer, he was a PAHO/CDC consultant for the Brazilian government for meningococcal meningitis during the extensive outbreaks from 1974-1976. Upon completion of his epidemiology training, he went to West Africa to found the CDC Lassa fever Research Project in Sierra Leone. Just as he was setting up this project, his knowledge of language and culture in the Congo was put to the test and he was called to join the team investigating the first Ebola epidemic in 1976. After this investigation, Dr. McCormick returned to Sierra Leone, living and working for three years in the Eastern Province, conducting extensive and definitive studies of the epidemiology and treatment of Lassa hemorrhagic fever. Data from these years included a landmark publication in the New England Journal of Medicine on definitive effective antiviral treatment for this disease.


Dr. McCormick returned to Atlanta in 1979 and became Chief of the Special Pathogens Branch of the Division of Viral Diseases at the CDC. That same year, he led a WHO team in investigating a second Ebola hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Sudan. Dr. McCormick was director of the Biosafety level 4 laboratories at CDC for 9 years, inaugurating the current BSL 4 facility at CDC. He was also director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers. During this period, he became involved in the study of HIV/AIDS in Africa, leading the original team that established the Project SIDA in Kinshasa, Zaire, and later led the team that established the Project Retro-Ci in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He co-authored numerous papers in major journals, including Science, and established a key point in the natural history of HIV infection in Africa, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, by testing specimens saved in his laboratory from the 1976 Ebola outbreak, including isolation of the oldest HIV virus. In 1993, he was recruited to take up the post of Chairman of the Community Health Sciences Department at the Aga Khan University Medical School (AKU). He established an epidemiology program, resembling the CDC Field Epidemiology Training Programs, but built on an academic private university model, with a Masters’ degree in Epidemiology. At least 45 papers have now been published by faculty and trainees from this period. Dr. McCormick left Pakistan in early 1997 and moved to France where he founded epidemiology programs for the Institute Pasteur and for Aventis Pasteur, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. On January 1, 2001, he took the position of Regional Dean, University of Texas Houston School of Public Health, with responsibility for the new Brownsville campus. He has developed an extensive research program in Brownsville and in Northern Mexico.

Joseph McCormick on KCRW

Ebola is a terrifying and deadly disease. But it’s made all the more dangerous and frightening because of the difficulties in containing it.

Evolution of an Outbreak

Ebola is a terrifying and deadly disease. But it’s made all the more dangerous and frightening because of the difficulties in containing it.

from Press Play with Madeleine Brand

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