CDC calls 2014 'unprecedented' for public health challenges

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling 2014 an "unprecedented" year for public health challenges, citing the Ebola epidemic and a rise in other communicable diseases.

The agency's response to Ebola is the largest in its history, involving 170 field staff and 700 others working on anti-Ebola projects, CDC officials said in a report on the year's activities.

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At the same time, the agency is battling other emerging threats such as enterovirus D-68, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and healthcare-related infections strengthened by antibiotic resistance.

"We're carrying out many other public-health missions crucial to protecting American lives," CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement accompanying the report. "We're taking action on a wide range of health threats."

The Ebola epidemic was agency's defining challenge this year, dividing officials' attention between infection control efforts in West Africa and preparations for isolated cases to arrive in the United States.

Though fears about the virus have died down since the fall, the CDC came under a harsh spotlight in October after the first person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil transmitted the illness to two others.

The small outbreak in Dallas became a problem for federal health officials, who undertook new efforts to ensure hospitals and healthcare workers were prepared to spot and isolate Ebola patients.

A handful of other public health troubles have also made news around the country.

In one example, a national outbreak of enterovirus D-68 has been linked to more than 1,000 illnesses and several fatalities, with children suffering from respiratory diseases most at risk.

While it's unclear what role the virus played in the deaths, the CDC said its new rapid lab test is helping ease investigations.

Officials predicted that healthcare-related infections and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome will seize attention next year, with the latter virus "expected ... to make its way to the United States," Frieden stated.