CDC Grand Rounds: Discovering New Diseases via Enhanced Partnership Between Public Health and Pathology Experts

Sherif Zaki, MD, PhD; Dianna M. Blau, DVM, PhD; James M. Hughes, MD; Kurt B. Nolte, MD; Ruth Lynfield, MD; Wendy Carr, PhD; Tanja Popovic, MD, PhD


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2014;63(6):121-126. 

In This Article


This is another in a series of occasional MMWR reports titled CDC Grand Rounds. These reports are based on grand rounds presentations at CDC on high-profile issues in public health science, practice, and policy. Information about CDC Grand Rounds is available at

Despite advances in public health, medicine, and technology, infectious diseases remain a major source of illness and death worldwide. In the United States alone, unexplained deaths resulting from infectious disease agents have an estimated annual incidence of 0.5 per 100,000 persons aged 1–49 years.[1] Emerging and newly recognized infections, such as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome and West Nile encephalitis, often are associated with life-threatening illnesses and death ( Table 1 ). Other infectious diseases once thought to be on the decline, such as pertussis, again are becoming major public health threats. Animals increasingly are being recognized as potential vectors for infectious diseases affecting humans; approximately 75% of recently emerging human infectious diseases are of animal origin. Increasing global interconnectivity necessitates more rapid identification of infectious disease agents to prevent, treat, and control diseases.

Surveillance and rapid response for emerging infectious diseases remain cornerstones of CDC's public health mission. There is a need for a holistic "One Health*" approach with interdisciplinary engagement, given the vital interconnectedness among humans, animals, and the environment. Fortunately, many partnerships, systems, and tools are available to use in pursuit of this goal. The strong public health partnership between CDC's Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch and forensic pathologists and medical examiners, coupled with the use of state-of-the-art technologies, has facilitated explanation of many otherwise unexplained deaths, led to the discovery of new pathogens, and enabled the monitoring of unexplained deaths and critical illnesses at the state and local levels.