CDC team's quick response saves lives, earns kudos

Tuesday - 7/16/2013, 7:37pm EDT

Dr. J. Todd Weber, chief, CDC Multistate Outbreak of Fungal Meningitis and Other Infections Response Team

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In September 2012, health officials in Tennessee notified the Centers for Disease Control about an outbreak of a rare form of meningitis.

The CDC quickly went into action.

Dr. Johnathan Todd Weber, the chief of CDC's Prevention and Response Branch, led a team of experts on an investigation into the cause of the outbreak.

Eventually, the team tracked down the source of the disease — a steroid produced by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy investigated the company, stopping further shipments of the steroid. Meanwhile, the CDC worked with state and local health departments to contact almost 14,000 patients who may have been exposed to the dangerous drug.

"More quickly than ever before, the CDC team identified what the problem was and where the problem came from, and assured rapid, direct notification of thousands of people who were potentially affected," said said Dr. Ileana Arias, the CDC's principal deputy.

Dr. J. Todd Weber, chief, Prevention and Response Branch, Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion

For their work, the Partnership for Public Service named Weber and his team finalists for the 2013 Service to America Medals in the Citizen Services category. The medal honors a federal employee who made a significant contribution to the country in citizen services, such as economic development, health care, education, labor, housing and transportation.

Weber was recently interviewed on In Depth with Francis Rose. He also answered the following questions about himself and his career in the federal government.

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?
Engagement, transparency, recognition.

What's the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you've ever received and who gave it to you?
"You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts." Given to me by my first boss in the government, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).

Who is your biggest role model and why?
Personally, it would be my parents, who never told me what I should do for a living, but made sure I had the abilities to make a choice. I plan to do the same for my kids. Professionally, it might be the fictional character Martin Arrowsmith, whose career covered just about every aspect of medicine and weathered significant challenges to his integrity but who remained dedicated to science and saving lives.

What's the last thing you read and what's next on your reading list?
Last read: "Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies" by Ben Macintyre, about the amazing British achievement in feeding false information to the Nazis before D-Day.

Next: "Children of Their City" by Per Anders Fogelström, a novel about social and political life in late 19th century Stockholm, sequel to "City of My Dreams."

What's your favorite bureaucratic phrase?
Bureaucratic in a good way: "Out of an abundance of caution." When you're working through novel or unknown dangers with high risks, this is not a bad way to start your approach to controlling the problem until you have information to make evidence-based recommendations.

The Citizen Services Medal is just one of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) presented annually by the Partnership for Public Service. View a gallery of all the Sammies nominees here.