Notices to Readers: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of MMWR at CDC
January 13, 2011, marks the 50th anniversary of the first publication of MMWR by CDC. MMWR was not new 50 years ago, but it was new to CDC, which itself had only been organized in 1946. The first ancestor of MMWR was the Bulletin of the Public Health, which began publication on July 13, 1878, under the National Quarantine Act. In the years between 1878 and 1961, MMWR and its antecedents went through several changes in name and format, and were housed in several different federal agencies. By 1960, the publication had assumed its current name, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and was being published by the National Office of Vital Statistics (NOVS) in Washington, an agency of the U.S. Public Health Service (1). NOVS later became the National Center for Health Statistics.
In the late 1950s, Alexander D. Langmuir, CDC's chief epidemiologist, became determined to move the disease surveillance functions of NOVS to CDC, along with MMWR. Langmuir worked hard to accomplish this, securing the transfer in 1960 (2). CDC published its first issue of MMWR on January 13, 1961. On the cover of that issue, Langmuir wrote, "The Center welcomes the addition of this important function. We believe the closer current contact with those reporting morbidity and mortality data will better permit us more rapidly and successfully to carry out our primary role of providing consultation and assistance to the States when communicable disease problems occur" (3).
Since 1961, MMWR has broadened into a series of six different products: the MMWR Weekly, the Surveillance Summary series, Recommendations and Reports, the annual Summary of Notifiable Diseases, the weekly MMWR podcasts, and Supplements. Since 1961, MMWR has published reports about all of the major infectious diseases affecting the United States and the world. Through the decades, these have included smallpox (1960s), Legionnaire's disease (1970s), the first cases of acquired immunodeficiency disease (AIDS) (1980s), the first iatrogenic transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (1990s), and the first reports of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and 2009 influenza A (H1N1) (2000s) (4). By the 1970s, MMWR was publishing many reports on noninfectious diseases and injuries, and today, approximately 55% of all reports in the MMWR Weekly are on noninfectious disease topics.
In 1961, and for decades afterward, MMWR was the primary route by which CDC rapidly disseminated scientific information about public health events. Today, many channels exist for this purpose, and the Internet has revolutionized medical publishing. While recognizing that it must continue to serve as "the voice of CDC" and provide timely, authoritative, and useful public health information and recommendations, MMWR also recognizes it must adapt to rapid changes in the public health world. This will be one of the great challenges for MMWR in its next 50 years.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary, MMWR will publish a special supplement containing a history of MMWR, and an anthology of reports depicting the main events, developments, and innovations in public health from 1961 to the present. The supplement will be available later this year to all subscribers and on the MMWR website.
- Gregg MB. From morbidity and mortality to prevention and control. Presented at the American Medical Writers Association meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, September 30, 1980.
- Thacker SB, Gregg MB. Implementing the concepts of William Farr: the contributions of Alexander D. Langmuir to public health surveillance and communication. Am J Epidemiol 1996;144(8 Suppl):S23--8.
- CDC. Provisional information on selected notifiable diseases in the United States and on deaths in selected cities for the week ended January 7, 1961. MMWR 1961;10:1.
- CDC. Highlights in public health: landmark articles from the MMWR 1961--1996. MMWR 1999(Suppl). Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/other/highlite.pdf. Accessed January 6, 2011.
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