November 27, 2013
1 min read

Database tracks disease outbreaks, vaccinations reported since 1888

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Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health have created an online database of weekly surveillance reports for reportable diseases in the United States from the past 125 years, according to a press release.

Project Tycho, a collection of digitized weekly notifiable disease surveillance tables published from 1888 to 2013, were collected from various historical reports, including MMWR. All of the data is free and publicly available on the Project Tycho website.

Researchers found that of the 56 diseases reported, none were continuously reported. However, the United States has experienced a re-occurrence of measles, mumps and rubella outbreaks since the 1980s, and despite the availability of a pertussis vaccine since the 1920s, pertussis cases are the highest since 1959, according to the release.

“Analyzing historical epidemiological data can reveal patterns that help us understand how infectious diseases spread and what interventions have been most effective. This new work shows the value of using computational methods to study historical data — in this case, to show the impact of vaccination in reducing the burden of infectious diseases over the past century,” Irene Eckstrand, PhD, of the NIH, said in the release.

Irene Eckstrand, PhD 

Irene Eckstrand

Researchers chose to closely analyze eight vaccines: smallpox, polio, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis A, diphtheria and pertussis. They compared the reported outbreaks of these diseases with the year of vaccine licensure to discern the effect vaccines have in controlling infectious diseases.

“Historical records are a precious yet undervalued resource. As Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, ‘We live forward but understand backward,’” Donald S. Burke, MD, researcher and Jonas Salk chair of global health at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in the release. “By ‘rescuing’ the historical disease data and combining them into a single, open-access, computable system, we now can better understand the devastating impact of epidemic diseases, and the remarkable value of vaccines in preventing illness and death.”