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Besser Named Acting Director Of CDC

January 23, 2009

On Thursday, Dr. Richard Besser was named acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He replaced Dr. Julie Gerberding, the high-profile CDC head who announced her resignation quietly last week. 

“This designation will be effective until a permanent CDC director is appointed and enters on duty,” the Health and Human Services department said in a statement.

Besser has been director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response, which is responsible for public health emergency preparedness and response.

He also helped to coordinate the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, as well as helping oversee CDC’s spending to get states ready for a pandemic of influenza and other diseases.

Besser also worked in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, tracking food-borne disease, and helped head a campaign to reduce overusing of antibiotics.

CDC has helped the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with other agencies, to track a series of outbreaks of food poisoning, most recently involving salmonella in peanut products that has made nearly 500 people fall ill in 43 states.

Gerberding fought for many controversies during her six years as CDC head, including accusations of allowing former president George W. Bush’s administration to interfere in scientific decisions.

Also, she led an unpopular restructuring of Atlanta-based agency, and was accused of acting too slowly to protect people housed in trailers, after the 2005 hurricanes, from chemical fumes.

Besser came out of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts with a degree in economics, and received a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

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