CDC's Rich Besser takes TV news post

Editor's note: This story was revised Jul 31 after Besser contacted CIDRAP to say that the date listed for his start at ABC News was incorrect.

Jul 30, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – Richard E. Besser, MD, a long-time employee of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who served as the agency's acting director during the beginning of the novel H1N1 virus outbreak, is leaving the agency to work for ABC News.

Besser's departure was announced in an e-mail to CDC staff from Thomas Frieden, MD, current director of the agency. The e-mail has widely circulated beyond CDC and was also obtained by CIDRAP News.

Besser will join ABC News as senior health and medical editor, starting Sep 6. He plans to report on obesity, influenza, and other public health topics for several of the network's programs starting in September, the Associated Press reported today. He appeared on a weekly television show that included medical segments in the 1990s while directing a pediatrics residency program in San Diego.

Besser was appointed acting CDC director in January when Julie Gerberding stepped down. He served until June, when Frieden was appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the CDC. Besser currently directs the CDC's Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response (COTPER).

In Frieden's e-mail to staff, he wrote that Besser did an excellent job leading the agency during the transition time, drawing from his experiences leading COTPER and responding to Hurricane Katrina. He said Besser's accomplishments at the CDC include pressing for accountability and performance measures in public health preparedness, improving the science behind preparedness work, and encouraging state and local infrastructure to respond to emergencies.

Frieden wrote that he had mixed emotions about Besser's departure from the CDC. "In Rich, CDC is losing an outstanding leader, but is gaining a formidable public health advocate."

Besser is a pediatrician who began at the CDC in 1991 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer working on foodborne disease epidemiology, according to biographical information on the CDC's Web site. During his tenure with the agency he served as epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch, acting chief of the meningitis and special pathogens branch in the National Center for Infectious Diseases, and medical director of a national campaign to promote appropriate antibiotic use in the community.

He recently received the Surgeon General's Medallion for his leadership during the novel H1N1 outbreak response.

Frieden said in his message that Capt Daniel Sosin, MD, MPH, will serve as acting director of COPTER, where he has worked since 2004 as senior advisor for science and public health practice. Sosin started with the CDC in 1986 as an EIS officer.

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