Control of infectious diseases

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1999 Jul 30;48(29):621-9.


Deaths from infectious diseases have declined markedly in the United States during the 20th century. This decline contributed to a sharp drop in infant and child mortality and to the 29.2-year increase in life expectancy. In 1900, 30.4% of all deaths occurred among children aged <5 years; in 1997, that percentage was only 1.4%. In 1900, the three leading causes of death were pneumonia, tuberculosis (TB), and diarrhea and enteritis, which (together with diphtheria) caused one third of all deaths. Of these deaths, 40% were among children aged <5 years. In 1997, heart disease and cancers accounted for 54.7% of all deaths, with 4.5% attributable to pneumonia, influenza, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Despite this overall progress, one of the most devastating epidemics in human history occurred during the 20th century: the 1918 influenza pandemic that resulted in 20 million deaths, including 500,000 in the United States, in <1 year-more than have died in as short a time during any war or famine in the world. HIV infection, first recognized in 1981, has caused a pandemic that is still in progress, affecting 33 million people and causing an estimated 13.9 million deaths. These episodes illustrate the volatility of infectious disease death rates and the unpredictability of disease emergence.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / history*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Communicable Disease Control / history
  • Communicable Disease Control / trends*
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Communicable Diseases / history
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Forecasting
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Mortality / trends
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents