Friday, September 5, 2008

Got disease control and prevention if you want it

The diligent souls at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have opened a new Online Newsroom. Since it's not password-protected or anything, it's out there for exploration by bloggers and anybody else.

I toured the CDC offices and laboratories in Bethesda, Maryland (and elsewhere in the D.C. area) this year as part of a journalism fellowship with The Association of Health Care Journalists. It was way cool.

My fellow fellows and I were treated to a tour of the Situation Room, where we watched epidemiologists (known as "epis," in the biz) track an outbreak of ebola in Uganda and flooding in the Pacific Northwest, with its implicit threat of water-borne illness down the flooded road.

We got to shadow this intense little doctor (always, a "doc") who specializes in the study of obesity. He was himself fit and lithe. He had designed a chamber that enabled him to calculate weight and temperature with a fine calibration, to judge what activites were most efficient in burning off calories. He also had a system for tracking when and why his study subjects who were officially dieting broke down and hit the on-site junk food machines.

It was a pleasant and unexpected experience: my federal tax dollars at work doing something it should be expected to do - fund experts who are trying to improve the world, within their own areas of expertise. It's the same experience I had at the state level when I reported on The Missouri Department of Corrections (administered compassionately by a rural white Republican man, Larry Crawford), and at the city level when I started reporting on The Comptroller's Office (administered efficiently by an urban black Democratic woman, Darlene Green).

The CDC Online Newsroom has press briefing transcripts, a Public Health Image Library, podcasts, a clickable map of state health departments, even an archive of the CDC's annual budget dating back to 2006. (Comptroller Green introduced a comparable level of transparency when she added a searchable database of City audits to her office's website.)

All that, and really pretty images of microrganisms that can really mess you up, like the picture I have chosen of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses.

I understand that anyone reading an obscure blog like mine has their own infinite library of cool websites - well, here's one I like; and, if you are paying taxes in the U.S., you paid for it, so you might as well enjoy it! And, who knows? It might even save your life - or just keep you from getting sick or sicker.

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