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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16 responses to “Disease Outbreaks in Your Town and Across the Globe”

  1. Lisa Perkosky says:

    Saw this comment on a blog yesterday from somebody I do no know……..

    “So I decided to talk to my uncle today about his stance on vaccines. He is a preacher, has 7 kids, 3 of those adopted. I said “what does the Bible REALLY say about vaccines?” and he wasn’t really sure what it said since vaccines didn’t really exist back then.

    He said “As you are fully aware…many vaccines carry considerable risk… there are many things in life I will take chances on…but my children is NOT ONE OF THEM”

    So I said: “Oh yeah I totally agree a lot of parents say your chances of dying in a car crash is higher than dying from a vaccine which I don’t believe that.”

    He said, “A car crash is ACCIDENTAL… placing your baby on the vaccine gambling table is NOT an accident.” “If there was a one in million chance that’s NOT A CHANCE I AM WILLING TO TAKE.”

    I was impressed.”

  2. Gray Falcon says:

    But he was willing to risk his children succumbing to disease? We aren’t asking him to take a risk, we’re asking him to mitigate one.

  3. Lisa Perkosky says:

    I think his thought process is that you can risk getting a disease or you can risk injury from a vaccine. If you intentionally get vaccinated you are intentionally taking a risk, but you don’t make a decision to intentionally give somebody a disease and there are measures you can take to help prevent getting a disease that don’t require any risk. Make sense?

  4. Lawrence says:

    @Lisa – so he feels that putting his children on the disease gambling table is better?

    Diseases kill and maim on a daily basis….vaccines, on the other hand, have been found to be safe, effective & with vanishingly small chances of serious reactions.

    He has no concept of risk analysis or statistics.

  5. Lawrence says:

    @Lisa – no, that doesn’t make sense. Unvaccinated individuals will, if infected, further infect or put at risk other individuals – that is a clear choice & not accidental at all.

  6. Gray Falcon says:

    Lisa, if a pilot fails to perform the pre-flight checks before takeoff, he significantly increases the risk of crashing. He made no decision to crash, but he still bears responsibility for his inaction. Likewise, if you fail to vaccinate, then you are still putting your children at risk, and bear the responsibility if they get an infant or cancer patient sick.

  7. Mick Fowler says:

    When I was in nursing school in the seventies, a number of serious diseases were all but eradicated. Hopes were high that polio, pertussis etc would be problems of the past. We never thought that this project would be derailed by quackery and religious fanaticism. It is ironic that the USA has fallen behind the rest of the world regarding the spread of preventable diseases. Add this to our infant mortality rate ( highest in the first world ) it would appear that we are cluelessly marching backwards. Can I get a halleluyah?

  8. Lawrence says:

    @Mick – our infant mortality rate is so high because we measure infant mortality different than other countries….just a correction there.

    Otherwise, I agree with you.

  9. Iris says:

    So to be clear, the US has the highest vaccination rate in the world, and yet we are number one in infant mortality and have fallen behind in the spread of disease?

  10. Lawrence says:

    @Iris – incorrect. We measure infant mortality in a much broader fashion than most countries. It is not an apples to apples comparison.

  11. Iris says:

    Can you clarify the differences? This is very interesting.

  12. Lawrence says:

    @Iris – the US counts any live birth, while Germany (for example) doesn’t include births under 26 weeks….since the US has a significant number of premature births, it skews the numbers.

    I will provide a good link that explains the key differences.

  13. Iris says:

    Thank you!

  14. Lawrence says:


    From 2012 – gives a very thorough accounting of the process and information broken out by age, geographic, socio-economic status, etc.

  15. dingo199 says:

    Lisa Perkosky :
    He said, “A car crash is ACCIDENTAL… placing your baby on the vaccine gambling table is NOT an accident.” “If there was a one in million chance that’s NOT A CHANCE I AM WILLING TO TAKE.”
    I was impressed.”

    But he deliberately put his children into his car, and drove down the road into the traffic.
    How irresponsible!
    I thought he wouldn’t dare take such a risk with his kids, but I guess I am wrong.

    No doubt he deliberately left the safety harness for the child seat unbuckled, and didn’t strap them into their seatbelts (you see, those have been known to directly cause injuries, albeit rarely).

  16. dingo199 says:

    Funny how the US infant mortality rate has declined steadily over recent decades, while new vaccines keep getting added to the schedule, isn’t it?
    It’s enough to make some cognitively-challenged antivaxer jump to some ridiculous correlation=causation conclusion, isn’t it?

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