Infectious Diseases Travel Fast and Far

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Because of the nature of infectious diseases, everyone remains vulnerable – including in the United States – until every country in the world can rapidly identify and contain public health threats. In today’s tightly connected world, a disease can be transported from any remote village to any major city on any continent in as little as 36 hours1. Recent disease outbreaks have demonstrated that a disease threat anywhere is a disease threat everywhere.

Emerging disease threats: Emerging disease threats persist. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a virus identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. As of January 2020, cases were identified in a growing number of countries, including the United States. In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services declared COVID-19 a public health emergency for the United States.

Measles: Early data from WHO indicates that during the first six months of 2019, more measles cases were reported worldwide than in any year since 2006[2].  Already busy combatting an Ebola outbreak in DRC, WHO has simultaneously reported “the world’s worst measles epidemic” in DRC with the death toll surpassing 6,000 people[3].

Ebola Virus Disease: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing the world’s second largest EVD outbreak ever recorded. This outbreak is second only to the 2014-2016 West Africa EVD outbreak, when three countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – suffered largescale spread of the disease, with seven additional countries, including the United States, also reporting cases. The death toll of the 2014-2016 EVD epidemic reached more than 11,000[4].

Polio: Poliovirus, which is also a vaccine-preventable disease, is a persistent threat and has remained a public health emergency of international concern since 2014[5]. Fragile states and insecure areas pose a continued threat to global health security.

Zika: In 15 months throughout 2015-2016, Zika virus spread to 68 countries and territories, including the U.S. [6].

Investing in Global Health Security

CDC is investing in global health security to make the United States and the world safer and more secure from infectious disease threats.

Securing global health, ensuring domestic preparedness, eliminating disease, and ending epidemics are top priorities for CDC. Since the inception of GHSA, CDC has minimized public health threats by improving public health preparedness at home and abroad. In 2014, the United States helped to launch GHSA, seeking to accelerate progress toward a world that is safe and secure from infectious disease threats and to promote global health security as an international priority. As part of the U.S. Government’s commitment to GHSA, CDC invested in 17 partner countries to strengthen and sustain public health readiness to contain outbreaks at their source: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam.

CDC supports the 11 technical areas identified by the GHSA

What CDC Does

CDC supports the 11 technical areas identified by the GHSA framework with a focus on four foundational areas that underlie all aspects of global health security: surveillance systems, laboratory systems, workforce development, and emergency management and response. CDC assistance to GHSA partner countries in the development of these important functions has resulted in substantial improvements to their readiness to combat infectious disease threats.

Examples of CDC’s activities relating to these four essential public health functions include

  • Supporting surveillance systems that enable disease tracking and reporting
  • Creating faster and more accurate data sharing
  • Helping to build better laboratory systems
  • Training an elite public health workforce of disease detectives
  • Establishing and improving emergency operations centers (EOCs) that can respond more quickly to all public health events and National Public Health Institutes (NPHIs) that provide sustainable infrastructure for preparedness activities

[1] Jonas, O. (2013). Pandemic Risk. The World Bank. Retrieved from

[2] World Health Organization. (2019). New measles surveillance data from WHO. Retrieved from

[3] Deaths from Democratic Republic of the Congo measles outbreak top 6000. (2020, January 7). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). 2014-2016 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. Retrieved from

[5] Statement of the Twenty-Third IHR Emergency Committee Regarding the International Spread of Poliovirus. (2020, January 7). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from

[6] Ikejezie J, Shapiro CN, Kim J, et al. (2017). Zika Virus Transmission — Region of the Americas, May 15, 2015–December 15, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 66(12):329–334.

Infectious Diseases Travel Fast and Far

Page last reviewed: February 14, 2020
Content source: Global Health