Why Are Diseases Notifiable?

MRSA bacteria, false color
MRSA bacteria. PASIEKA/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Definition: Reportable diseases are diseases that doctors, clinics, and/or laboratories must report to either a local health department or the CDC. They are also referred to as notifiable diseases. These reports can be either anonymized or contain identifying information about an individual, depending on the disease in question and the state in which a doctor is doing the reporting.

Generally, diseases are classified as notifiable because they represent a serious public health threat...

or the potential for such a threat. Disease reporting is particularly useful for diseases that can be prevented (through vaccination or other methods), as reporting can be used to track the efficiency and effectiveness of prevention methods. It can also be used to track serious emerging infectious diseases whose nature is poorly understood in order to develop a better idea of how they are spread.

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

  • Many sexually transmitted diseases are notifiable because, at least in theory, the STD epidemic is one that should be controllable through appropriate testing, treatment, and prevention behaviors.
  • Conditions such as salmonella and other types of food poisoning are often listed as needing to be reported, in order to assist local governments and the FDA in tracing contaminated food products.
  • Other nationally notifiable diseases require reporting 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 which are 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. For example, tracking diseases associated with poorly regulated coal mining operations could potentially help the government protect those workers and shut dangerous companies down.

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. They make it possible to detect, investigate, and contain potentially serious outbreaks much earlier than would otherwise be the case, since isolated doctors seeing one or two additional cases of a new or dangerous illness have no idea whether other doctors are seeing an increase as well.

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.


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Nationally Notifiable Infectious Diseases 2010. Accessed March 2010

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