An M.D. Attacks Terrorism

The Early Show: Dr. Julie Gerberding
CBS/The Early Show
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has a new director. As the nation faces new health risks from terrorism, Dr. Julie Gerberding will be taking on the huge task of trying to keep the nation safe and healthy.

The Early Show Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay caught up with her recently in Atlanta to discuss the challenges facing the agency.

Dr. Gerberding is the first woman to head the CDC and she was appointed at a time when the agency's role is expanding in response to terrorism.

It's a job that has become much more high profile in the face of new threats from the West Nile Virus to the weapons of bio-terror.

"We are scaling up and speeding up our response capacities," said Dr. Gerberding. "The same thing that we're doing to detect and respond to bio-terrorism or any kind of terrorism attack will also help people for more natural events in the community, such as an outbreak of a new infectious disease or West Nile Virus."

Dr. Gerberding was at the forefront of efforts to respond to last year's anthrax mail attacks.

"Safety has always been part of our concern and this is not the first time that we've worked with the FBI or criminal investigators on a particular outbreak problem but it's obviously a much more conspicuous part now," said Dr. Gerberding. "Until it became real, it wasn't the priority that we now have made it. So I think the world has changed for us in the same way it's changed for everyone in America."

Part of the CDC's role is to imagine the worst and prepare for it. Dr. Gerberding and her staff are working with government leaders to develop a plan to vaccinate people who would respond first to a smallpox bioterror attack.

Dr. Gerberding said the CDC is working with the Office of Homeland Security, local health departments and state health agencies to plan and respond better for emergencies.

Dr. Gerberding is also making it her mission to get more federal funding to continue to upgrade the aging facilities at the CDC, which are chronically overcrowded.

Besides keeping track of infectious diseases, the CDC also keep track of about everything that has the potential to affect health, like motor vehicle crashes and deadly chronic diseases (heart disease and cancer) that hit closer to home for most people.