Originally created 07/11/98

'Disease detective' to head CDC



ATLANTA -- Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, a former "disease detective" for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was named director of the federal agency Friday.

Koplan, 53, succeeds Dr. David Satcher, who was sworn in as surgeon general in February. He will lead a $2 billion-a-year agency with 7,000 employees worldwide.

Koplan is president of Prudential Health Care Research in Atlanta, joining the private research organization in 1994 after 22 years at the CDC.

His appointment was announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

The CDC investigates outbreaks of infectious diseases around the world such as Ebola, promotes good health habits and monitors illnesses.

"By working together, we can make a difference, one that will be measure in thousands of lives saved and thousands of lives lived longer, thousands of lives lived better," Koplan told about 500 CDC employees.

Koplan, who earned his medical degree from Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, started in the CDC's labs as one of its storied "disease detectives." He started the agency's National Center of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and became its first director in 1989. It was the first arm of the CDC to focus on cancer, heart and lung disease and other chronic illnesses.

The dangers of smoking were one of his priorities. "It is blasphemy to combine a tobacco company's product and anything related to sports in the same sentence or the same location," Koplan said in 1994.

Koplan, a native of Boston, takes over as CDC chief Oct. 5.

Colleagues said Koplan not only has the scientific know-how to lead the CDC but also the political savvy to handle controversial issues, such as the CDC's research on gun deaths.

"That's one of his strengths," said Dr. Jim Curran, dean of the school of public health at Emory University. "He is not at all a partisan political person, but rather someone who has a strong science base and very good interpersonal skills."