Reportable diseases are diseases considered to be of great public health importance. Local, state, and national agencies (for example, county and state health departments or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) require that these diseases be reported when they are diagnosed by doctors or laboratories.
Reporting allows for the collection of statistics that show how often the disease occurs. This helps researchers identify disease trends and track disease outbreaks. This information can help control future outbreaks.
All states have a "reportable diseases" list. It is the responsibility of the health care provider, not the patient, to report cases of these diseases. Many diseases on the lists must also be reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Reportable diseases are divided into several groups:
Mandatory written reporting: A report of the disease must be made in writing. Examples are gonorrhea and salmonellosis.
Mandatory reporting by telephone: The health care provider must make a report by phone. Examples are rubeola (measles) and pertussis (whooping cough).
The county or state health department will try to find the source of many of these illnesses, such as food poisoning. In the case of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) the county or state will try to locate sexual contacts of infected people to make sure they are disease-free or are treated if they are already infected.
The information gained from reporting allows the county or state to make informed decisions and laws about activities and the environment, such as:
The health care provider is required by law to report these diseases. By cooperating with state health workers, you can help them locate the source of an infection or prevent the spread of an epidemic.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR): Summary of Notifiable Diseases. Available at: www.cdc.gov/mmwr/mmwr_nd. Accessed June 3, 2013.
Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.