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Summary Article: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
from Encyclopedia of Epidemiology

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has two primary purposes: to improve people’s health in their daily lives and to respond to health emergencies. CDC is the principal agency responsible for improving public health in the United States, and it conducts research and public health interventions both in the United States and globally. CDC headquarters are located in Atlanta, Georgia, with a workforce of more than 8,000 employees in various locations throughout the world. As the name suggests, CDC consists of a number of centers that focus on particular aspects of public health. These include the National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Immunization Program, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The roots of the CDC lie in the Malaria Control in War Areas (MCWA) program, whose mission was to control or prevent malaria and murine typhus fever in the southern United States during World War II. The Communicable Disease Center, the direct descendant of the MCWA, was organized in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 1, 1946. The role of the new Communicable Disease Center was much expanded from that of the MCWA; it was responsible for researching and controlling all communicable diseases except tuberculosis and venereal disease, which at that time were handled through separate offices located in Washington, D.C. Over the years, CDC has expanded to include many agencies addressing specific diseases and health issues, including venereal disease (1957), tuberculosis (1960), immunization (1960), quarantines (1967), and smoking (1986). CDC’s purview has expanded to include all diseases and conditions that affect human health, including chronic diseases and related risk factors such as obesity, tobacco use, and exposure to environmental toxins. The name Center for Disease Control was adopted in 1970; in 1981, this became Centers for Disease Control and in 1992, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; however, the acronym CDC is still used for the organization.

CDC has played an important role in several of the major infectious disease issues of the 20th century. For instance, when some children inoculated with the Salk vaccine were infected with polio, the national inoculation program was halted; however, CDC was able to trace the cases to contaminated vaccine from a laboratory in California, and the inoculation program was resumed. Guidelines for national influenza vaccination were developed after CDC used surveillance procedures to trace the course of the 1957 influenza epidemic. CDC established a smallpox surveillance unit in 1962, developed improved vaccine and vaccination techniques, and established surveillance procedures adopted by the World Health Organization in its campaign for the global eradication of smallpox. The first diagnosis of AIDS was described in the June 15 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published by CDC. CDC investigators traced toxic shock syndrome to a particular brand of tampon, which was subsequently removed from the marketplace.

The Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), headquartered at the CDC Atlanta offices, consists of physicians, scientists, and other public health professionals who have been trained at the CDC in applied epidemiology. EIS was founded in 1951 after the outbreak of the Korean War, in response to a perceived threat of biological warfare; its role today is to provide experts in surveillance and response to epidemics, and its purview includes chronic diseases and injuries as well as infectious diseases. Today, EIS officers serve in a variety of locations, including CDC offices and state and local health departments, and are available to respond to requests for epidemiological assistance, including investigation of disease outbreaks, all over the world.

MMWR, established in 1961, is a weekly online and print journal published by the CDC, which contains primarily current reports of disease occurrence and risk factors. Each week includes a section of notifiable diseases, and the remainder of the articles are on various topics, including reports of disease outbreaks and focused analyses of publicly available data sets such as the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Electronic copies of MMWR dating back to 1982 are available through the CDC Web site or by email subscription without charge, and paper copies may be purchased through the same Web site.

    See also
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; Field Epidemiology; Governmental Role in Public Health; National Center for Health Statistics; National Immunization Survey; Outbreak Investigation

Further Readings
  • Etheridge, E. W. (1992). Sentinel for health: A history of the Centers for Disease Control. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Office of the Directory, Epidemiology Program Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Historical perspectives: History of CDC. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, 45(25), (1996). 526-530. Retrieved October 4, 2006, from www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00042732.htm.
  • Web Sites
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov.
  • Sarah Boslaugh
    Copyright © 2008 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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