At noon Friday, when President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office, Dr. Tom Frieden ceased being director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He left CDC on a day when the agency was dealing with the first known outbreak in the U.S. of Seoul Virus, a form of hantavirus, linked to pet rats.
The timing could not really be helped. It’s in the Constitution and besides, dealing with life-threatening crises is what CDC does routinely. Until the next director is named to serve at the pleasure of the president, CDC is in the hands of a career civil servant who previously was Frieden’s deputy.
Dr. Anne Schuchat took over at CDC as acting director on Friday. She holds the rank of Rear Admiral in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Services. Schuchat has worked in West Africa on meningitis, pneumonia and Ebola vaccine trials and on surveillance and prevention projects in South Africa.
In addition, Schuchat served as Chief Health Officer for CDC’s 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza response; led the CDC team responding to the SARS outbreak in Beijing in 2003; and supported the Washington D.C. field team during the 2001 bio-terrorist anthrax response.
As the 16th CDC director, Frieden’s tenure was tenure was the longest in about 40 years. He will probably be remembered for his handling of the Zika virus, including obtaining $1.1 billion from Congress to combat the Zika threat. In addition, he is hoping Congress will adopt the”Rapid Reserve Fund” plan so future infectious disease threats are not allowed to move faster than the budget process.
Frieden has left his successor with the thorny problem of what to do if $890 million in annual funding from the Affordable Care Act is repealed. The ACA is the source of a preventive fund that, if cut, will leave a large hole in CDC’s budget.
The ongoing Seoul Virus outbreak is not a foodborne disease. Instead, people are exposed by handling rats. A total of eight individuals in Wisconsin and Illinois have been sickened. The CDC has put two epidemiologists on the case. They will be assisting state health officials.
Seoul virus is called “a rodent-borne hantavirus” characterized by fever, chills, nausea, abdominal pain, and pink eye-type infection.The infection can be required from handling wild Norway rats throughout the world. It may take two to eights weeks after contact with a wild Norway rate before symptoms show up.
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are both units of the Department of Health and Human Services, which awaits the confirmation by the U.S. Senate of Trump’s nominee for health secretary, Dr. Tom Price.
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