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Special Report: A Brief History of the CDC

Founded in 1946 to prevent the spread of malaria across the US, the health agency is still at the forefront of the battle against deadly diseases.
Special Report: A Brief History of the CDC

For more than two years since the coronavirus became a global pandemic and COVID-19 ravaged populations around the world, the CDC has become the US government's champion in fight against the disease. Hailed by some while despised by others, the CDC's recommendations have impacted businesses, schools, and governments across the country in myriad ways.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is "one of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services and is recognized as the nation’s premiere health promotion, prevention, and preparedness agency," according to its website. But of course, that lofty mission brings along with it a healthy dose of skepticism and criticism.

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This week's federal court ruling that the CDC exceeded its statutory authority with the masking mandate on public transportation has again put the public health agency back in the spotlight.

With that, here's a brief history of what was originally known as the Communicable Disease Center, or CDC.

From the CDC Website:

On July 1, 1946 the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) opened its doors and occupied one floor of a small building in Atlanta. Its primary mission was simple yet highly challenging: prevent malaria from spreading across the nation. Armed with a budget of only $10 million and fewer than 400 employees, the agency’s early challenges included obtaining enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage war on mosquitoes.
As the organization took root deep in the South, once known as the heart of the malaria zone, CDC Founder Dr. Joseph Mountin continued to advocate for public health issues and to push for CDC to extend its responsibilities to other communicable diseases. He was a visionary public health leader with high hopes for this small and, at that time, relatively insignificant branch of the Public Health Service. In 1947, CDC made a token payment of $10 to Emory University for 15 acres of land on Clifton Road in Atlanta that now serves as CDC headquarters. 
The new institution expanded its focus to include all communicable diseases and to provide practical help to state health departments when requested. Although medical epidemiologists were scarce in those early years, disease surveillance became the cornerstone of CDC’s mission of service to the states and over time changed the practice of public health. There have been many significant accomplishments since CDC’s humble beginnings.

This INTERACTIVE TIMELINE highlights some of the CDC's most important achievements for improving public health worldwide from the 1940s to the Present.

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