Infectious diseases have been reported weekly in the United States since 1888, but this accumulated wealth of data has not previously been available in electronic form. Some data sets have become available for analysis leading to improved disease control strategies, serving as powerful examples of opportunities provided by historical “raw” public health data. At a global level, public health donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust have made strong appeals for data sharing in public health for better disease control programs. Van Panhuis and his group have digitized data comprising more than 87 million individual cases and analyzed these data to quantitatively describe disease control in the U.S. over the last 120 years.
Van Panhuis’s work also addresses growing rates of vaccine refusal. His analysis provides a compelling description of the influence of vaccination programs in the U.S. on transmission of childhood infectious diseases. Pertussis cases, for example, have increased in the U.S. since the 1980s despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. Resurgences of other childhood diseases, including measles, mumps, and rubella, have also occurred.