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CDC leads battle in disease fight

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Whether it's a deliberate attack, as with anthrax, or the outbreak of a slow and silent killer such as HIV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in the forefront of America's defense.

In its extensive Atlanta headquarters, the CDC investigates thousands of reports from doctors and epidemiologists, always on the lookout for emerging diseases.

The U.S. government created the CDC in 1946 as the Communicable Disease Center, but its mission has expanded.

It fights tobacco use and obesity, teaches children to wear a helmet while cycling and shows parents how to raise children less prone to violence.

Many of the world's top medical experts work for the CDC. They are sent to small towns in the United States to help local health departments deal with a variety of disease outbreaks -- meningitis, for example. They also travel overseas in search of new strains of the flu.

And when new or rare diseases are found, doctors worldwide turn to the CDC to figure out which microorganisms they are battling.

The CDC is one of two known laboratories in the world that have samples of smallpox, which are kept in the deep recesses of the agency's buildings. After working in special suits, lab workers take safety showers in case any microbes are stuck to their suits.

The CDC also maintains the national pharmaceutical stockpile, a huge collection of drugs and vaccines.

After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the CDC said it delivered tons of medical supplies within seven hours. It was the first test of the CDC's stockpile system -- created in World War II's aftermath -- on the front lines of America's new war.


• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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