Federal Faces: J. Todd Weber, CDC

October 14, 2013

Name: J. Todd Weber

Position: Chief, Prevention and Response Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Best known for: In September 2012, the CDC began receiving reports from health officials in Tennessee about patients diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis. The news set off alarm bells at the CDC, which launched an emergency response team led by Weber. The team linked the outbreak to injections of a steroid, which was produced by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts and distributed to 76 facilities in 23 states.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy investigated the firm and halted additional shipments of the contaminated medication. Simultaneously, Weber and his team worked with state and local health departments and clinical facilities to quickly notify about 14,000 potentially exposed patients. They helped identify the pathogen and developed tests to detect it; put an epidemiology team to work tracking the outbreak; alerted doctors and health-care facilities to stop using the drug; provided guidance to doctors on treatment options; and offered information to the public.

It was the CDC’s most successful outbreak response. As of Oct. 1, there were 750 reported cases of patients with infections attributed to the tainted steroid and 64 deaths in 20 states. Most deaths occurred early in the outbreak and dramatically decreased after Weber and his team intervened.

Dr. Rima Khabbaz, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, said the rapid CDC team response made a difference.

“There is no question that they saved lives,” she said. “This was public health at its best. A quick and decisive response.”

Government work: Weber joined the CDC in 1990. He worked as an epidemic intelligence service officer in the Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch and later as a medical epidemiologist focused on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. He had a five-year assignment working for the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, served as CDC director of the Office of Antimicrobial Resistance and as the CDC Liaison at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Sweden. He has held his current post since 2011.

Motivation for service: After developing an interest in public health while in college, Weber became a doctor and decided to concentrate on disease outbreaks by joining the CDC.

Biggest challenge: The biggest challenge is creating an environment where talented scientists can excel in their areas of expertise while also collaborating as a team. Teamwork was essential in the response to the outbreak of fungal meningitis, requiring experts in a wide variety of areas such as epidemiology, clinical medicine, laboratory methods, public policy and ethics to work together.

Quote: “The fungal meningitis we were seeing was a new infection that had really never been seen or studied before. We had the potential for a new disease infecting many thousands of people in many different states. Our goal was to get those people notified and help them get properly diagnosed and receive care.”

For a full profile, go to the Fed Page at washingtonpost.com/politics/federal-government.

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