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Why Are Diseases Notifiable?

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Updated January 26, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: Reportable diseases are diseases that doctors, clinics, and/or laboratories must report to either a local health department or the CDC.

Generally, these diseases are notifiable because they represent a serious public health threat or the potential for such a threat. Disease reporting is also particularly useful for diseases that can be prevented (through vaccination or other methods) as well as for serious emerging infectious diseases whose nature is poorly understood.

Although the list of reportable diseases varies from state to state, and even jurisdiction to jurisdiction, there are numerous infectious diseases notifiable nationally:

  • Many sexually transmitted diseases are notifiable because, at least in theory, the STD epidemic is one that should be controllable.
  • Conditions such as salmonella and other types of food poisoning are often listed as reportable diseases to assist local governments and the FDA in tracing contaminated food products.
  • Other reportable diseases are reportable because they're some combination of serious, uncommon in the U.S., difficult to treat, and/or highly transmissible. Such diseases include tuberculosis, malaria and measles.

There are also non-infectious diseases notifiable in the U.S. For example, in many states work-related lung diseases such as asbestosis are reportable to the local health department. When these, and other diseases that are usually acquired at work, are classified as reportable diseases it can help with making industries safer.

Making diseases notifiable can play an important role in their control. Disease reporting is an incredibly useful tool for public health officials, who use the data for everything from trying to limit exposure to a contaminated food product to attempting to understand a new infectious disease and keep it from spreading across the country or around the world.

Examples:
There is national reporting data for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, hepatitis, chancroid, and syphilis. Among other useful outcomes, making these STDs reportable diseases allows the government to track, and hopefully contain, issues with antibiotic resistance.

Source:
Nationally Notifiable Infectious Diseases 2010. Accessed March 2010

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