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The Center For Disease Control and Prevention celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 with the opening of the CDC Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

OPEN ROAD LIFESTYLE

DESTINATIONS

What The CDC Has Accomplished For Mankind

The Only Way To Discover A Glimpse of CDC Operations Is Through This Atlanta Museum Open To The Public And Free of Charge

CDC Museum in Atlanta [Photo Credit: Jim Gathany]

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 with the opening of the CDC Museum in Georgia. The museum not only shows visitors what the CDC has done to keep the public safe, but documents the hard work, dedication and passion the CDC has for public health and safety.

With artifacts, dynamic educational programming and engaging exhibits, the David J. Sencer CDC Museum is about opening the door to the public and letting people in on what the CDC's mission truly is and what it has taken to complete that mission over the past 71 years.

While many visitors are aware of the work the CDC has done here on Earth, it comes as a fun surprise that the CDC has also brought their work to the moon.

“We worked with NASA on the moon launch,” said CDC Museum Director Judy Gantt. “We worked to keep astronauts from bringing pathogens back to Earth from the moon. Nobody knew what was on the moon at that time. There might have been some germs.”

Nothing was discovered, but they were in quarentine for a while, to make sure they didn't bring back anything. The CDC also did the same before they went up, to make sure the astronauts didn't bring anything to the moon.

Another interesting topic is their exhibit on the CDC's Tobacco Laboratory. There are machines “smoking cigarettes,” Gantt explained, “so we can find out what chemicals are in it, how they're made and where the nicotine is.”

According to Gantt, a lot of times the nicotine is located in the front of the cigarette so smokers get immediately hit with it and want more. Tobacco, she continued, is the most preventable cause of disease.

It's this large variety of work and studies that makes the CDC Museum an ever-changing, dynamic destination with a large variety of exhibits and programs. 

Food safety installation exhibit [Photo Credit: Jim Gathany]
Visitors inside the museum trying on a BSL-4 (Biosafety level) suit [Photo Credit: Alex D.Rogers]

One of the CDC's greatest accomplishments is the eradication of small pox. It's the only disease that's gone from the earth completely, said Gantt, because of the work of the CDC, its partners and the political will of countries all around the world. Now, small pox is only found in the laboratory. But nobody will “ever have that ever again,” Gantt concluded.

Small pox was eradicated in the 1980s, but small pox have been around since the beginning of recorded history. While many people are aware of the existence of small pox, its scarring and often lethal symptoms and the CDC's eradication of the disease, it's not as well known how it the CDC went about doing so.

But it's something the museum highlights in one of its exhibits.

Doctor Bill William Foege, who later became the director of the CDC, had come up with the idea of “ring vaccination.” This is a process that begins with identifying a case and then putting a “ring of protection” around it by vaccinating all of the people in the village or town. That way, nobody will get small pox and the disease can't get out.

The determination of the CDC and the collaborating countries proved that “it can be done,” said Gantt.

The next diseases on the list for the CDC are polio and Guinea Worm, which they have already begun to work on with help from partners Rotary International, Bill Gates Foundation and Unicef.

Polio has been wiped out in the US, but it's still in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. Because of the countries' terrains and politics, it can be a bit of a challenge to work on the known cases, but the CDC are “dedicated to the initiative of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative,” which was started in 1988. The museum is doing what it can as well, documenting reports and artifacts and making the information available to the public.

There are less than 200 cases of Guinea Worm left on earth, noted Gantt. Individuals who have ingested the eggs from contaminated water will have the worms hatch a year later. The long worms cause “excrutiating pain,” but they can't simply be pulled out. 

Students viewing the Global Symphony, a multi-media installation highlighting the world of CDC and public health [Photo Credit: Alex D. Rogers]
AIDS epidemic installation in detail [Photo Credit: Jim Gathany]
One of the temporary galleries on Cancer survival [Photo Credit: Jim Gathany]

“You have to roll it up in a pencil and keep rolling for two weeks. It can come up anywhere,” explained Gantt. “If you put it in water, the eggs hatch and it starts again. It's horrendous. You never want anybody to go through that. There's no immunization.”

So the solution the CDC is working on is educating people who are drinking this contaminated water on filtering.

“It feels great to be this close to eradicating a disease,” said Gantt. “It feels exciting. But it's always the hardest part of any eradication – the last few cases. You don't want more to flare up. You don't want some imported somewhere. You really have to immunize every single child. They can be transmitting a disease they don't even have symptoms for. It's very hard. Everybody is so motivated to make sure that it happens.”

As someone who loves the stories of the CDC and loves telling their greatest hits, Gantt is a passionate museum director. She loves the new exhibit on ebola because it contains so many artifacts, including recorded videos of ebola responders. It's rich. It's dynamic. It's “CDC-centric,” an opportunity to share what the CDC does.

Gantt has been the director of the museum since it opened back in 1996. A member of the CDC for 37 years, she thought the opportunity seemed “really fun.” In fact, she thinks it's the “best job” at the CDC because she gets to “talk about all of the CDC.” And with so many different departments and areas of study, there's a lot to talk about.

While working for the CDC, Gantt was focused on immunization, which she “absolutely loves,” but she has found her true passion was developing, building and designing the museum. She concluded: “It's a fabulous job.”

For more details visit cdc.gov/museum. Current exhibits include “Ebola: People + Public Health + Political Will and “This is Autism: Little Things Can Be Huge.”


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

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