The Centers for Disease Control, the CDC

The Bug Bureau

UD Federal Government/Wikimedia/Public Domain

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is on the federal government's front lines of battling bugs, combating everything from the common cold to the emergence of a new human influenza virus with pandemic potential.

Founded in 1946 as an outgrowth of the Department of Health and Human Services to combat malaria, the CDC today helps ensure the health of Americans through its system of health surveillance, preventative action, education, research and health care.

To Benefit the Public Health

The CDC's main functions include monitoring public health; detecting and investigating health problems; conducting research to prevent health problems; developing and advocating public health policies; implementing prevention strategies and measures; promoting healthy lifestyles and behavior; fostering safe and healthy environments; and providing leadership, education and training to enhance public health.

The CDC has helped identify major disease outbreaks such as AIDS and Legionnaire's disease. It also serves as both a watchdog and an information resource for the public on illnesses borne from food contamination, such as E. coli and salmonella; emerging health threats like bird flu and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome; and common public health issues including sexually transmitted diseases, asthma and diabetes.

The CDC is also on the front lines of emergency preparedness and response efforts, including natural disasters like earthquakes and mass emergencies such as explosions.

It is also involved in the fight against terrorism, charged with investigating and helping to contain outbreaks of anthrax, the use of toxic nerve agents like ricin or chlorine and other threats to public health.

Primary Functions of the CDC

The CDC is actually comprised of several distinct agencies with different functions, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and six coordinating centers:

  • the Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention, which deals with pollutants and occupational health;
  • the Coordinating Center for Health Information Service, a resource for credible, timely health information;
  • the Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, which encourages healthy living;
  • the Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases;
  • the Coordinating Office for Global Health, which works with foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to foster health care worldwide;and
  • the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response.

The last agency, in particular, has a supremely important mission in light of recent disasters, both man-made and natural, and in preventing or mitigating future threats.

In Pursuit of Research

The CDC also includes national research centers:

  • the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control;
  • the National Center for Environmental Health;
  • the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities;
  • the National Centers for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion;
  • the Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention;
  • the National Center for Infectious Diseases;
  • the National Immunization Program;
  • the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention;
  • the National Center for Public Health Informatics;
  • the National Center for Health Marketing; and
  • the National Center for Health Statistics.

The CDC and the Zika Virus

Most recently, the CDC led the U.S. fight against the Zika virus. Spread mainly to pregnant women by a certain species of mosquito, the Zika virus – for which there is no know vaccine – can cause certain birth defects.

The CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) coordinates the government’s emergency response to Zika by utilizing an array of scientists and healthcare professional worldwide with expertise in viruses like Zika, reproductive health, birth defects, and developmental disabilities, and travel health.

A few of the main Zika prevention effort of the CDC include:

  • Developing laboratory tests to diagnose Zika;
  • monitoring and reporting new cases of Zika;
  • providing guidance to travelers and Americans living in areas with current outbreaks;
  • surveillance of Zika in the United States, including US territories; and
  • supporting on the ground treatment and prevention efforts in areas with Zika.

Locations of CDC Offices

Headquartered in Atlanta, the CDC employs approximately 15,000 people, including physicians, entomologists, nurses, laboratory technicians, toxicologists, chemists, biologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, veterinaries and other scientists. It maintains regional offices in Anchorage, Alaska; Cincinnati; Fort Collins, Colo.; Hyattsville, Md.; Morgantown, W. Va.; Pittsburgh; Research Triangle Park, N.C.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Spokane, Wash.; and Washington D.C. In addition, the CDC has staff in state and local health agencies, quarantine and border health offices at ports of entry into the U.S., and in other nations around the world.

Phaedra Trethan is a freelance writer who works as a copyeditor for the Camden Courier-Post. She is a former copyeditor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she also wrote about books, religion, sports, music, films and restaurants.