The Importance of Reporting Illnesses to the CDC

bacteria as seen through a microscope

The Center for Disease Control’s primary purpose is to control and prevent diseases and illness. Founded in 1946, the CDC is currently headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. It is considered one of the most powerful agencies in the world for the collection and dissemination of information regarding many health conditions. Each state has laws about what illnesses and diseases that health care professionals supposed to report to the CDC, it is basically an honor system that trusts the health care providers to follow through on reporting. Proper reporting of the named diseases and illnesses allows the CDC to analyze data, send out warnings, declare epidemics and track the conditions’ progress.

Protection of the Public

Consistent, proper reporting of diseases/illnesses helps the CDC protect the public. For example, when cases of food poisoning are properly documented, the CDC can determine the primary food cause, where it began and in many cases where it started. This allows the manufacturer or preparer of the offending food to be notified, stop shipping or serving the product and put out a public recall notice. For reports of sexually-transmitted diseases, the CDC is able to alert local populations as to the increased risk in the area and encourage testing and treatment.

Education

The CDC also uses data that it gathers to provide education to the public. It draws conclusions based on facts being reported in the health care field and uses those conclusions to educate in the effort to prevent future outbreaks. For example, understanding how Hepatitis C is spread and how it can be prevented may reduce its incidence. Information about preventing the spread of the flu is taught in classrooms, through television commercials and other methods.

Research

Because the reporting includes basic demographic information, it provides the ability to research. Knowing what age bracket is being hardest hit, what complications arise and other valuable data paves the way for researching new medications or cures. Collection of data through proper reporting gives researchers an idea about trends a disease is taking. In addition, the research can point to whether it is becoming medication resistant.

Improvements

Information gathered by the CDC is also used to develop improvements. For example, understanding more about how food poisoning occurs has helped the CDC make recommendations about how to handle, process and store foods. Data on STD’s gives the CDC a foundation for public service announcements and improvements in treatments.

Types of Reporting

Some diseases must be reported in writing, while others are mandated to be phoned in to a CDC hotline number. Examples of phone reporting are pertussis-whooping cough and rubella- measles. Many sexually transmitted diseases and several common food poisoning illnesses must be reported in writing. It is illegal for a health care provider to ignore mandated reporting.

End Result

In addition to the ability to determine current trends, and improve the future, information gathered over many years by the CDC can show long term trends. For example, HIV and AIDS has become a much more manageable disease than it was in the 1980’s. The CDC has been able to track it’s spread, mortality rates and other factors about the disease. Historic trends are easily examined due to the data gathering performed by the CDC since 1946.

Writer Tracy Rentz blogs about community health issues. Interested in public health but don’t want to quit your job? Several schools offer off-campus degrees, for example USC’s online public health masters is available online.

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Image courtesy of kat m research via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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