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She rose to prominence in the fall of late 2001, when she emerged as a leading spokeswoman for the agency during the anthrax crisis in which letters containing a deadly anthrax powder were sent to some politicians and journalists and perhaps others. Five people died in a wave of attacks that panicked a nation already shaken by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Koplan was the CDC director at the time. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Koplan had a prickly relationship with Bush administration officials. He resigned in March 2002.
Gerberding was selected by Tommy Thompson, Bush's first U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, who was impressed by her performance during the anthrax crisis. She entered office pledging to work closely with the Bush administration.
She was the agency's first female director -- a status highlighted in a profile in Vogue magazine that featured a full-page color photograph of her in a gray Chanel suit and white Marc Jacobs high-heeled shoes. The white streak in her hair and her "JLG" signatures on memos were well-known details of her distinctiveness.
Gerberding was a highly visible spokeswoman for the government on public health matters, eclipsing officials such as the surgeon general and the director of the National Institutes of Health in visibility. That was due in part to the scary, urgent nature of topics her agency dealt with, including SARS, food poisoning outbreaks and the threat of a deadly new type of pandemic flu.
But her tenure also proved controversial:
A 2004 medical journal article co-authored by Gerberding said obesity was about to overtake smoking as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, but CDC officials later reported they had overstated the increase in obesity-related deaths by about 35,000. The mistake was blamed on a computer software error.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the agency was criticized for being slow to respond to survivors' complaints about formaldehyde fumes in trailers that had been provided by the government.
She was criticized at times for going along with Bush administration political positions at the sacrifice of science. In 2007, she was knocked for going along with White House editing of her Senate testimony on the effects of climate change on health, which involved deletion of key portions citing diseases that could flourish in a warmer climate.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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