The History of Disease Surveillance


Disease surveillance is an important part of public health and disease prevention. Like most other movements, disease surveillance was preceded by several major events. This paper analyses the influence of key events in the evolution of disease surveillance. Additionally, the paper looks at the future trajectory of disease surveillance using the new developments in the field. Some of the important events discussed include the introduction of the internet as a surveillance tool and the H1N1 outbreak that led to new measures. These are important events that shaped disease surveillance.

Introduction: Turning Points and Events

Disease surveillance is an important public health practice that monitors the progression of disease in society. This epidemiological practice contributes to disease prevention and management through accurate prediction (Fairchild, 2003). The major turning points and events that led to the development of this practice include the development of bodies such as the WHO and CDC (Noble, Panesar, & Pronovost, 2011; Kondratas, 1995). According to Fairchild (2003), these bodies enabled the observation and prediction of diseases thought to be highly infectious and with high mortality rates.

Specific Events

Aside from the international bodies, the other turning point of disease surveillance is the introduction of computers. The invention of computing led to the internet that was a major turning point in disease surveillance (Kukafka & Yasnof, 2007). Some of the other events that are worth mentioning in the history of disease surveillance include the World Wars, the H1N1 outbreak, and the HIV/AIDs Pandemic. These events were important as they guided the evolution of disease surveillance and predicted the future surveillance trajectory and its impact.

The internet is a tool in which information on disease impact and progression is stored (Madoff, Fisman, & Kass-Hout, 2011). It is currently possible to create cancer registries where different countries monitor the progression and impact of the diseases. In addition, health organizations can monitor the progress of an infectious disease or the preventive measures such as immunization (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). The internet also transformed information sharing where care providers can access health information within minutes. Additionally, the internet provides a platform for information exchange between the different health institutions and individuals.

Aside from the invention of the internet that revolutionized disease surveillance, the other important event in history relating to disease surveillance is the H1N1 outbreak (Kaye, Warren, & Weinbren, 2006). This infectious disease spread over several continents and was a significant public health challenge. The most important of the outbreaks of this disease occurred in 1918 with an estimated mortality of 50-100 million (Kaye, Warren, & Weinbren, 2006). Consequently, the outbreak led to structures aimed at predicting the occurrence and spread of the disease. These were some of the first measures in disease surveillance (Fairchild & Bayer, 2007). Subsequent outbreaks of the infection such as those of 2009 and other years were not as fatal. Therefore, disease surveillance developed after the first outbreak was instrumental in preventing massive life loss.

Forecast of the Next Phase

The next predictable phase in disease surveillance is the use of informatics and the internet to predict disease outbreak and surveillance. Researchers can access information from internet companies and use it to predict the development of a disease such as influenza or dengue fever (Shapiro, Mostashari, Hripcsak, Soulakis, & Kuperman, 2011). Future predictions of disease will entail the use of internet searches and a review of the results. Additionally, more people are expected to use the internet to search the manifestation of their illness. Companies with search capabilities can assist in disease surveillance. The changes will affect the public health and policy in several ways. First, the use if the internet will increase as more patients search for signs of their diseases online (Edmunds, Thorpe, Sepulveda, & Bezold, 2014; Probabilistic case detection for disease surveillance, 2015). Additionally, the prevention of disease will lead to better health care and a longer life expectancy.


In conclusion, disease surveillance is an integral part of disease prevention and management. Some of the major events and historical developments in disease prevention include the invention of the internet and the H1N1 outbreak. These events led to the development of disease surveillance and its improvement.


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