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When Charles Otto was awarded swimming and lifesaving merit badges from the Boy Scouts of America as a youngster, he couldn’t have known that a few years later he would put those skills to use rescuing a young child.

Today, Capt. Otto is still protecting the lives of swimmers as a senior health officer in CDC’s United States Public Health Service Corps.

Though most aquatics professionals think of Dr. Michael J. Beach in relation to the CDC, Otto has been a key player for years.

He has worked on a host of environmental health issues, beginning in 1974 when he joined the Mobile County (Ala.) Health Department, where he managed a regulatory program for approximately 450 pools. After that, Otto went to work with the Alabama State Health Department, and later the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where in 1993 he helped develop the modern FDA model Food Code, now considered the industry standard. He also took assignments with the National Park Service and then at CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program, working with cruise-ship pools and spas.

Otto will be using this experience in helping to craft the CDC’s Model Aquatic Health Code. “I believe I have been successful in introducing science-based and preventive programs learned through my work in food safety into my aquatic health work, at sea and now on shore,” he says.

Otto counts his current position as “one of the most rewarding parts of my public health career.” He adds that a reason for this is the opportunity to work with Beach, the creator of CDC’s Healthy Swimming program and a world-renowned expert on recreational water illnesses and prevention.

“Dr. Beach and I have been involved in many bacterial, parasitic, viral and indoor aquatics facility air-quality outbreak investigations,” Otto says. “Our close collaboration between epidemiology and environmental health has been cited as a model of ‘silo-busting’ within CDC.”