Former AIDS Researcher to Be Named CDC Chief

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson plans to name a new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta on 3 July. The new CDC chief, according to reports circulating in the press and confirmed by a Senate aide, will be Julie Gerberding, a former HIV/AIDS researcher and CDC staffer who gained prominence during the anthrax crisis last fall. Since October, she has appeared for CDC in many televised briefings and congressional hearings, explaining how the deadly bacterium causes infection and how to guard against it.

Gerberding, 46, is currently CDC's deputy director for science and, if named, will be CDC's first woman director. She could not be reached for comment. A CDC spokesperson also declined to discuss the appointment until after Thompson's announcement, scheduled for 1 p.m. The appointment does not require Senate confirmation.

According to her colleague, Paul Volberding of the University of California, San Francisco, during the 1980s and 1990s, Gerberding organized "an incredible consultation service" to prevent infection among health workers at San Francisco General Hospital. "She's a great teacher," Volberding says, adding that CDC could benefit from her public communication skills.

CDC has been through a rocky period in the past 8 months, observers say, and many hope the appointment of a new chief will boost morale. Some members of Congress criticized the agency for its initial response to the anthrax mail attack last fall, which they viewed as poorly coordinated. Its operational response, says Tara O'Toole, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense in Baltimore, "was a little rusty." And since March, when director Jeffery Koplan resigned, the agency has lacked a permanent chief.

Gerberding is "a terrific appointment," says O'Toole: "She has great credentials, she's experienced in the real world, and she knows the CDC as an insider." James Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, agrees: "She will be an energetic leader for CDC at a time when bioterrorism and concerns about infectious disease are paramount."

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