Disease Outbreaks in Your Town and Across the Globe
Jan 22, 2014

The next time someone defends their decision not to vaccinate because “these diseases are no longer a threat to us” simply ask them to take a long hard look at this map of vaccine preventable outbreaks.


Created by The Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, this interactive map plots the global outbreaks of measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio, rubella, and various other diseases since the fall of 2008.  In other words, this map identifies recent outbreaks of diseases that could possibly have been prevented by vaccines.  For some people, this map will be a real eye opener.  For others, it will simply confirm what they already know.

Those who follow immunization news will not be surprised to see the increasing threat of whooping cough in the United States and Australia, the prevalence of measles in Europe, and the persistence of polio in Africa.  But for the average person who may not be all that familiar with the global health landscape, there may be some surprising concerns.

Preventable diseases are still prevalent in our world.

While a parent in the U.S. may have never seen a case of polio or rubella, they should understand that these diseases still exist and that diseases are not confined to one country or region.  Since infectious diseases can easily cross borders through international trade and travel, an outbreak in one region could easily spread to a population halfway around the world within a matter of days.  So a disease somewhere is really a threat to people everywhere, especially if  in that “somewhere” there are pockets of unimmunized people.

These diseases are easily preventable with vaccines.

By studying the history of vaccines, it’s clear to see how vaccines have helped to reduce the incidence of diseases worldwide.  What prevents these diseases from having an even bigger impact today is the simple fact that so many people are immunized.  However, as long as there are people who are not already immune these diseases will continue to spread to others – infecting, hospitalizing and sometimes even killing people.

One of our biggest challenges in the fight against diseases is that many people don’t have access to vaccines.  However, for those of us privileged enough not to have that problem, we must understand that our privilege comes with choices.   If people choose not to be vaccinated, than they remain susceptible to these diseases.  And a threat to someone somewhere remains a threat to everyone everywhere.

What we can see from the map is that vaccine-preventable diseases are occurring in developed countries that have ready access to vaccinations; evidence that our choices have consequences that span beyond our own personal health and contribute to the health of our global communities.  These cases may be a result of either vaccine failure (meaning vaccines aren’t 100% effective in every patient) and/or vaccine refusal (which refers to a person’s active choice to refuse vaccinations).  We can discuss why there are outbreaks but the fact remains that mapping diseases provides evidence that these diseases still exist and that they continue to present a threat to our health.

Another resource that provides a closer look at the broad range of emerging infectious diseases in our communities is HealthMap.  This service utilizes various data sources, including online news reports, eyewitness reports, expert-curated discussions and validated official reports, to achieve a comprehensive view of the current state of infectious diseases.  Through an automated process, the system monitors, organizes, integrates, filters, visualizes and disseminates online information 24/7/365.  Simply enter your zip code and you can generate a list of outbreaks near you.  But before you do, consider yourself warned.  What you learn just may surprise you. 

In reviewing these outbreaks the question remains… how can we use  this information to help identify and address the numerous challenges we face when tackling infectious diseases and global health?

As the Council on Foreign Relations states, global health programs have made enormous progress, but more remains to be done.

The engagement of new actors in global health—from philanthropic foundations to NGOs to multinational corporations—has created opportunities for partnership but also challenges of coordination and policy coherence. Although health spending is increasing in developing countries, in China and India in particular, the engagement of these countries in global health governance remains limited.

Addressing these and other global health challenge requires evidence-based analysis and informed decision-making. Through rigorous research, practical policy proposals, and extensive discussions with policymakers, experts, and opinion leaders, the CFR Global Health Program facilitates timely debate and better understanding of pressing global health topics.

What programs are you involved in, or are aware of, that are making positive strides in addressing public health concerns?

Whether they are local or global, each individual effort deserves to be applauded.  Feel free to highlight those that are of interest to you below.



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