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What is the CDC?


Founded in 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) worked with state and local health officials in the fight against malaria, typhus, polio, smallpox, and other communicable diseases. In the 1970s CDC changed it's name to the Center for Disease Control to better reflect its broader mission in preventive health. In 1973, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) became part of the CDC.

In the 1980s, the agency became much more diversified, establishing the Violence Epidemiology Branch and the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and incorporating the Office of Smoking and Health into the CDC.

In the 1990s, the CDC once again changed its name, this time to include Prevention but retained the initials CDC.

CDCs Current Role in Protecting Health and Safety:

The mission of the CDC is to promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury and disability. It works to accomplish this goal with the help of partners worldwide to monitor health, detect and investigate health problems, conduct research to enhance prevention, develop and advocate sound public health policies, implement prevention strategies, promote healthy behaviors, foster safe and healthful environments and provide leadership and training.

In 1981, with the California Department of Health, the CDC reported the first cases of an illness which later will be called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). In 1987 the CDC reported a strong association between Reye Syndrome and aspirin, noting that 90 percent of cases could be preventable by reducing aspirin treatment for children. In May of 1993, an outbreak of an unexplained pulmonary illness occurred in southwestern United States. Virologists used new methods to pinpoint virus genes at the molecular level. The new disease caused by the virus is called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, or HPS.

New diseases have the potential ability to spread across the globe in just days. The CDC plays a critical role in controlling these diseases and travels at a moment's notice to investigate outbreaks at home and abroad.

CDC Provides Credible Information to Enhance Health Decisions

The CDC works with public health and grassroots partners, the media and the Internet to make sure the best health and safety information is available to the communities and people that need it. Some examples of actions the CDC takes to communicate information include the following:

  • Since 1961, the CDC has taken over the publication of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), which publishes important data on deaths and certain diseases from every state every week.
  • Since 1995, the CDC has published the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, which is a peer-reviewed publication established expressly to promote the recognition of new and reemerging infectious diseases around the world.
  • The National Vital Statistics System produces key indicators of health from birth and death certificates.
  • The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is the primary source of information on the prevalence of risk behaviors among Americans and their perceptions of a variety of health issues.
  • The CDC has established seven Centers of Excellence for Birth Defects Prevention Research across the country.

CDC in the Future

The CDC faces new challenges with our changing world. Some of the new issues the CDC is dealing with include:
  • Meeting the health and safety needs of a changing workforce
  • Unitizing new technologies to provide credible health information
  • Protecting individuals against emerging infectious diseases including bioterrorism
  • Fostering safe and healthy environments
  • Working with partners to improve global health
  • Futures Initiative.

Today, the agency and its partners tackle much more than communicable disease. Chronic disease, global health, bioterrorism, injury, disability, occupational health, and environmental health are all areas where CDC contributes to scientific knowledge and its application. CDC's sister agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), examines the specific health effects of hazardous waste sites and unplanned releases of toxins.

Sources for More Information


Questions & Answers

Q. Who is the CDC?

A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the 13 major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is the principal agency in the United States government for protecting the health and safety of all Americans and for providing essential human services, especially for those people who are least able to help themselves.

Q. What Do they Do?

A. CDC's purpose is to prevent and control infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, disabilities, and environmental health threats. The CDC is globally recognized for conducting research and investigations and for its action oriented approach. The CDC applies research and findings to improve peoples daily lives and responds to health emergencies.

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