A CDC researcher left work sick two weeks ago – then vanished

Timothy J. Cunningham has been a rising official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Harvard-educated epidemiologist was promoted in July at the U.S. public health service in Atlanta, and contributed to responses following outbreaks of Zika, Ebola and health emergencies resulting from Hurricane Sandy. He was also a prominent fixture in the Atlanta community, earning a spot in Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 40 under 40 Awards last year.

But the researcher who studies disease patterns was not feeling well on February 12, and left work around midday.

Cunningham, 35, hasn’t been seen or heard from since, his family and police have said, sparking a $10,000 reward offered by the family in partnership with the Crime Stoppers of Greater Atlanta for information leading to an arrest and indictment in connection with the incident.

“I feel like I’m in a horrible ‘Black Mirror’ episode,” his sister, Tiara Cunningham, told the New York Times, describing the dystopian sci-fi television show. “I’m kind of lost without him, to be quite honest.”

She told the paper she speaks with her brother often, but their conversation on Feb. 12 left her concerned. “He sounded not like himself,” she said. He did not reply to a text message she sent later, and their mother Tia-Juana did not contact him either.

Cunningham’s father, Terrell, and mother drove all night from their home in Waldorf, Maryland, to Atlanta, arriving on Valentine’s Day. Their discoveries inside their son’s home raised more questions, including Cunningham’s unattended dog Mr. Bojangles and their son’s wallet, cellphone and driver’s license. His car was also in the garage, the Times reported.

Terrell also had concerns about recent interactions with his son, who described him as focused on a host of professional and personal issues.

“The tone, and the numerous exchanges gave us reason to be concerned about Tim,” he said. “And I don’t know if it’s an instinct you have because it’s your child, but it was not a normal conversation and I was not comfortable.” The family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Atlanta Police Department said Sunday it was still unable to locate Cunningham after learning about his disappearance on Feb. 16, and was depending on public awareness to help draw leads. Foul play is not suspected at this time, police spokesman Donald T. Hannah said in a statement.

The CDC said Cunningham was a “highly respected member of our CDC family,” ABC News reported. CDC did not return a request for comment.

In his 40 under 40 profile last year, Cunningham said that he was “using the skills I have to improve and help the lives of others,” referring to his work at CDC.

The publication said he was continuing on his family’s path into medical care — his father was an Air Force nurse for 30 years, and his mother worked for the state health department as a program manager.

Leonte Benton, a friend who met Cunningham in a professional development group, said Cunningham “consistently made an impact on the local community and throughout the world.”

The Cunningham family, meanwhile, continues their own dogged search as they sort out the bewildering episode.

“We just hope he will just come home safely. None of this makes sense. He wouldn’t just evaporate like this and leave his dog alone and have our mother wondering and worrying like this. He wouldn’t,” Cunningham’s brother Anterio told Fox 5 in Atlanta.

Australian tourist may have spread measles in New York this month, health officials fear

The New York State Department of Health wants people in the New York City area — and those who visited this month — to know that an Australian tourist confirmed to have measles went to numerous hotels and the Metropolitan Museum of Art from Feb. 16 to 21.

Measles is notoriously contagious for people without immunity to the disease, with a 90 percent infection rate for nonimmunized people who venture near an active spreader, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus latches onto the nose and throat mucus and proliferates through coughing and sneezing, with a life span of up to two hours in the open air.

About 9 out of 10 kids in the United States receive their measles vaccines, and the vaccine’s effectiveness rates above 90 percent, the CDC says.

In the United States, dropping immunization rates and bumps in infections have been tied to the anti-vaxxer movement, which believes that autism is caused by immunizations. That belief has long been discredited, but it has taken root in some communities.

State health officials on Friday advised people without immunizations to contact a health-care provider if they exhibit symptoms of measles, which include fever, rash, cough, pinkeye or a runny nose.

The Australian tourist’s travel route appears to show the contraction and progression of the disease, in a chronology provided Friday by state health officials:

Feb. 16-19: La Quinta Inn, 31 W. 71st Street, New York, New York.

Feb 16-17: Oasis Bible Tours at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Avenue, New York, New York.

Feb. 19: Watchtower Educational Center, 100 Watchtower Drive, Patterson, New York.

Feb. 19-20: Best Western Hotel, 1324 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.

Feb. 20-21: Comfort Inn & Suites Goshen – Middletown, 20 Hatfield Lane, Goshen, New York.

Feb. 21: Excel Urgent Care, 1 Hatfield Lane, Goshen, New York.

Feb. 21: Orange Regional Medical Center, Emergency Department, 707 E. Main Street, Middletown, New York.

There is some overlap, the state said, given the two-hour life span of the virus when airborne.

At this point, if you are digging into your vaccination records, immunization for the disease may show up as MMR – the common cocktail immunization for measles, mumps and rubella.

The state is being proactive with the alert, as symptoms typically appear about 10 to 12 days after exposure. So if you checked into La Quinta Inn and enjoyed Central Park views on Feb. 16-17, then symptoms of the disease may begin to show if you were infected.

This episode is noteworthy, given New York City’s population density and the tourist’s path cutting through area hotels and probably subway and cabs. The Met notched a record-high 7 million visitors in fiscal 2017, the museum said in its annual review, drawing art enthusiasts and others from all over the world.

Children must be immunized against measles to enroll in schools and day care, New York state health officials said, and college students since 1990 have been required to furnish their immunization records for the disease.

Despite global efforts to combat the disease, measles has remained a serious threat, mostly to children in the developing world. In 2016, there were 89,780 measles deaths worldwide, the first year the figure dipped below six figures, the World Health Organization said. The World Bank found that Australia, at 95 percent, has a slightly higher rate of measles immunization than the United States, which stands at 92 percent.

The disease has sometimes roared back in the United States in incidents tied to anti-vaxxer efforts. For instance, MMR vaccines in Somali communities in Minnesota dropped 50 percent from 2004 to 2014 because of activist work there, sparking the worst measles outbreak in the state in three decades.

And in 2015, dozens of people at Disneyland contracted the virus in an outbreak that prompted state officials to warn nonimmunized people to stay away from the park. Disneyland is in Orange County, California, an anti-vaxxer hotbed.

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