The Obama administration has appointed an infectious disease and disaster preparedness expert as acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Richard Besser, who headed the CDC’s public health emergency preparedness and response functions, succeeds Julie Gerberding, who stepped down with the change in administration after six years of leading the federal agency.
It wasn’t clear whether Dr. Besser would be Dr. Gerberding’s permanent successor. An email to CDC employees Thursday said that Dr. Besser would serve as acting director until a permanent director is named and assumes the role.
Dr. Gerberding, who officially stepped down when President Obama was sworn in this week, was originally to be replaced temporarily by William Gimson III, the agency’s chief operating officer, until a permanent successor was named. People familiar with the agency said Dr. Besser was named instead because Mr. Gimson is not a medical doctor, a qualification considered important to head the public health agency even temporarily.
Dr. Besser, 49 years old, is a CDC veteran with wide public health experience. A pediatrician by training, he served in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, tracking foodborne diseases, followed by several years working on infectious disease issues. He spearheaded a national campaign to prevent overuse of antibiotics, a practice which helps to spawn antibiotic resistant bugs.
Most recently, he has been director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response, which handles public health emergency preparedness and emergency response.