Definition

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Guide to healthcare compliance resources and agencies
Contributor(s): Kristen Lee

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a federal agency that conducts and supports health promotion, prevention and preparedness activities in the United States, with the goal of improving overall public health. Established in 1946 and based in Atlanta, the CDC is managed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The CDC works with partners at the local, state and national level to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks (including bioterrorism), implement disease prevention strategies and maintain national health statistics. The agency also leads public health efforts to prevent and control infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, disabilities and environmental health threats. The CDC focuses on the following five strategic areas: increasing support to local and state health departments, improving global health, decreasing leading causes of death, strengthening surveillance and epidemiology, and reforming health policies.

Overview of the CDC

The CDC's disease prevention efforts include educating the public on how to recognize and avoid contracting common infectious diseases, such as the flu and strep throat. The CDC also monitors outbreaks of chronic diseases, including Ebola, which are often met with updates from the CDC on how to recognize and combat possible symptoms.

For people who believe they might have contracted an infectious disease, the CDC website shares guidance on how to test for the disease and avoid spreading it to others before they can receive treatment.

More in-depth directions for treatment, including possible quarantine, are available for patients and healthcare workers that may have been exposed to more potent viruses, such as Zika.

The CDC and health IT

The CDC recognizes the importance of health IT and invests in information systems for a wide range of public health functions. These include the Public Health Information Network, or PHIN, a project that develops standards for exchanging health information, and BioSense, a cloud-based bioinformatics surveillance system. The CDC's CIO provides governance and oversight of the agency's IT investments.

The CDC, along with the U.S. Senate, has examined common causes of errors in electronic health records (EHRs). Interoperability between EHRs and other internal hospital resources, such as lab systems, has been targeted as an area that could use improvement. The Public Health-EHR Vendors Collaboration Initiative, created in August 2013 by the CDC and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, helps providers meet public reporting requirements set by the meaningful use program. The initiative has taken on other missions, including how to use EHRs to track patients for signs of Ebola.

Diseases and conditions

Many people in the U.S. associate the CDC with the diseases and conditions the agency identifies. It hosts an expansive website of materials about hundreds of diseases and health-related conditions.

A good example of the CDC's approach is its information about the flu. Visitors to the CDC's flu webpage can learn about symptoms, prevention and treatment, and FAQs provide more details on areas such as the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.

Healthcare professionals can also learn specific information related to patient treatment for the flu and occupational exposure for clinicians.

  • ADHD
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Avian influenza
  • Birth defects
  • Cancer
  • Chlamydia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Ebola (Ebola virus disease)
  • Epilepsy
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Flu (influenza)
  • Genital herpes (herpes simplex virus)
  • Giardiasis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Heart Disease
  • Hepatitis
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Kidney disease (chronic kidney disease)
  • Meningitis
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Microcephaly
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Parasites-Scabies
  • Salmonella
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Trichomonas infection (Trichomoniasis)
  • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Water-related diseases
  • Zika virus

Injury prevention and control

The CDC also works to reduce injury by educating the public and providing guidance on what people can do to keep safe. The public health service mainly does this through its National Center for Injury and Control, or the Injury Center.

The Injury Center studies injuries and violence and researches the best ways to prevent them. The Injury Center identifies and monitors certain issues that commonly cause injury, conducts associated research and helps fund state programs and provide technical assistance.

The Injury Center focuses on:

  • Motor vehicle injuries
  • Prescription drug overdoses
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Older adult falls
  • Sexual violence
  • Youth sports concussions

Data and statistics

The CDC is a chief U.S. source for statistics about injuries and diseases. Through its "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)," the agency catalogs disease surveillance efforts and provides recommendations on preventing illnesses.

The CDC works closely with state and local health departments, as well as industry experts, to develop standards, tools, training and technology to make sure disease reporting systems are integrated. In addition, the CDC works to make sure its surveillance systems are interoperable with public health surveillance programs, as well as health IT systems at hospitals, providers and laboratories.

Vaccines and immunizations

The CDC provides information on vaccines and immunizations for adults, pregnant women, healthcare professionals and immunization managers, as well as information for specific groups of people, such as teens or heart disease patients.

The agency also provides health information for people of certain racial and ethnic populations, as well as vaccinations travelers need.

CDC history and background

The CDC first opened in Atlanta -- with a satellite site in Chamblee, Ga. -- on July 1, 1946. The agency was first known as the Communicable Disease Center. The primary mission of the CDC at that time was to conduct field investigation, training and control of communicable diseases with a small budget and fewer than 400 employees. Malaria was among its initial top priorities, and the CDC's location in Georgia was not coincidental, as the Southeast had many malaria cases.

The agency's name has since evolved over the years, but always kept the acronym of CDC.

The CDC has tackled various large-scale public health issues, including the rise in awareness of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

The CDC has also at times faced criticism. For example, the CDC oversaw a decades-long study on the health effects of syphilis on black men, yet participants remained untreated until the study was made public.

This was last updated in March 2017

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