Inside the CDC--What They Do

Inside the CDC--What They Do
A hazmat team on an anthrax investigation.
A hazmat team on an anthrax investigation.

The CDC is recognized as the lead federal agency for protecting the health and safety of people at home and abroad. It's a huge job that started back in 1946, and it plays a critical in protecting us from threats against our health today and in years to come.

These days, when most people hear about the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, they immediately think about the investigation into that white powder called anthrax. We all got a crash course on that when the poison-riddled letters started popping up around the country and right here at home. One turned up at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office. The Savannah Fire Department's Haz Mat Team, police and many other local agencies responded to the threat, due in part to the efforts of the CDC.

Kathleen Buford, an epidemiologist at the Chatham County Health Department, told us, "We were very lucky that we had good guidelines coming down from the CDC through the state about screening, what we should be concerned about and what would be okay."

"When they are conducting training, they don't do that in a vacuum, they invite others," noted CEMA director Phillip Webber. "They invite others in that emergency response community, and we're a part of that and many others. So we all get healthier. We all get better off when one group is getting better with training or equipment."

There are more than 9,000 people working for the CDC around the world, and in 12 different sites in and around Atlanta. There is no aspect of life the CDC isn't trying to improve. Their work includes researching birth defects and developmental disabilities, infectious diseases, the safety and health of people in the workplace, environmental health, bioterrorism and whole lot more.

"It is the part of the federal government that looks at what it is that people are dying from and sick from that is potentially preventable, and then taking steps to educate people," explained Dr. David Fleming, deputy director for science and public health.

The CDC researches diseases and passes the information on to local health departments to make sure the services the public needs are available. Thanks to the CDC, right here at home, the Chatham County Health Department provides many programs.

"Cervical and breast cancer, immunizations, infectious diseases like HIV and AIDS and STD tests, tuberculosis, tobacco prevention and West Nile testing--it's all funded by the CDC," the health department's Buford told us.

As our world changes, so does the CDC. In today's global environment, new diseases could spread across the world in a matter of days, even hours, making early detection and action more important than ever. The CDC plays a critical role in controlling those diseases by traveling at a moment's notice. In fact, CDC workers are already all over the world treating those who are ill and trying to prevent the spread of disease.

"In order to protect the American public against both infectious and noninfectious threats, the CDC needs to be working overseas to help other countries control illnesses and diseases so that our people can be better protected," said Dr. Fleming. "The CDC is leading the worldwide effort to eliminate polio. It will soon be a disease that doesn't exist anywhere in the world. There's CDC staff now in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Ethiopia, fighting polio and the AIDS epidemic."

The agency also focuses on prevention.

"The job of the CDC is to look at the causes of death that are preventable now and look into the future to see what issues are small now that, unless we do something about them now, they'll become big health issues," explained Dr. Fleming.

Even though we all worry about the West Nile, according to the CDC, diseases caused by tobacco use and obesity are now and will continue to be the number one killers in the US.

Reported by: Dawn Baker,