Which Infectious Diseases Have Been Eliminated From The United States?

The polio virus, which thanks to vaccination was eradicated from the United States.
The polio virus, which thanks to vaccination was eradicated from the United States.

Infectious disease are some of the most feared diseases globally as they have the potential to eliminate entire populations within a short period of time. Often, these diseases cause great damage before any successful action can be implemented to control them. Like most countries of the world, the United States (US) has also suffered from grave epidemics of infectious diseases that have caused great loss of lives in the country. However, since the country has one of the world’s best health infrastructures and facilities, many of these deadly diseases have been brought under control. Mass vaccination campaigns, quarantine programs, awareness programs, etc., have helped achieve this feat. Here are some of the infectious disease that has been eliminated completely or largely from the US.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a viral disease that is caused by the yellow fever virus. The disease spreads between people through the bite of an infected female mosquito which acts as the vector of the disease. Yellow fever usually lasts for a few days and then subsides without any lethal or long-term implications. However, in some individuals, the yellow fever infection might prove deadly as liver and kidney damage might result from the infection. Although yellow fever is more common in tropical regions of the world, the US was also not spared from it. The first case of yellow fever in the US was recorded in 1668 in New York City. In 1793, a serious case of the disease was registered in Philadelphia. The urban epidemics continued in the US for years until the last outbreak was recorded in 1905 in New Orleans.


Diphtheria is a bacteria-induced infectious disease whose symptoms range from mild to severe. In worst cases, the disease might lead to paralysis or death. Hippocrates first mentioned the disease in the 5th century BC. In the 1920’s, 100,000 to 200,000 diphtheria cases were reported in the US every year. 13,000 to 15,000 people lost their lives in the country each year during this time. Most of these victims were children. However, with the diphtheria vaccine becoming a reality, the disease was brought under control and finally eliminated. Between 1980 and 2004, only 57 cases of the disease were reported in the US. Mass vaccination drives finally brought the end of the disease in the country.


The measles virus causes measles, a highly contagious disease with serious complications in some cases. Today, measles has been completely eradicated from the US. Widespread vaccination helped achieve this result. Prior to immunization, nearly 3 to 4 million measles cases were reported in the US annually. In 2000, the country was declared free of circulating cases of the disease. Between 2001 and 2011, only 911 cases of the disease were reported. However, occasional outbreaks continue to happen in the country due to contacts with other countries. It is thus recommended that those traveling abroad receive measles vaccination prior to travel. In 2015, an American woman from Washington died of pneumonia due to measles. After 2003, this was the first fatality from the disease in the country. Other sporadic cases have been reported across the US but the disease has nearly been eliminated from the country.


Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasitic protozoans. It spreads through the bites of mosquitos carrying the parasite. Malarial symptoms can range from mild to fatal. The disease has been successfully eliminated from many parts of the world including the US. It was once common in the country but the efficient implementation of vector control programs has helped stop the occurrence of the disease in the US. Also, sincere monitoring and treatment of infected individuals prevented the further spread of the disease. Other factors like drainage of wetland habitats, access to better sanitation facilities, etc., also helped bring the disease under control. By the early 20th century, the disease had largely been extirpated from the US. The use of pesticides like DDT as part of the National Malaria Eradication Program also aided in achieving the goal of creating a malaria-free country.


Polio is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. Symptoms of the disease vary widely but in severe cases, it might cause permanent paralysis and even death. Polio outbreaks began to occur in the US in the late 19th century. By around 1900, small localized epidemics were recorded in the country. The first half of the 20th century was the worst when a polio pandemic affected nearly all parts of the world. By the mid 20th century, the disease began to affect more children aged five to nine years when the risk of paralysis is higher. Polio-related deaths were also high during this time. In 1952, the US had the deadliest polio outbreak in its history. 3,145 deaths and 21,269 paralysis cases were recorded due to polio in the US. Gradually, however, the nation recovered. The IPV (a polio vaccine) was introduced in 1955 and the oral poliovirus vaccine was introduced in 1963. Mass vaccination campaigns were launched to immunize the entire population against poliovirus infections. Successful vaccination programs helped reduce the number of cases of polio to less than 100 in the 1960’s in the US. In the 1970’s, it fell to fewer than 10 each year. Since 1979, no fresh cases of polio have originated in the US. The last time a traveler brought the virus to the country was in 1993. Until the disease is completely eradicated globally, it is important to maintain a high immunity status in the population through vaccination.


Smallpox was a disease caused by the smallpox virus. It was a deadly disease that killed thousands of people around the world. Currently, however, smallpox has been completely eliminated globally. Smallpox was introduced in North America by the European colonizers in the 17th century. The disease wiped out large populations of the indigenous people on the continent who had no immunity against the disease. On an average, 3 out of every 10 persons who had the disease, died. Those that survived bore scars throughout their lives. Variolation was one of the first methods used to control the spread of the disease. However, the most effective prevention method was developed by Edward Jenner. Jenner invented the smallpox vaccine. In the 1800’s smallpox vaccination became a popular practice to control the disease. In 1959, WHO launched a global program to eliminate smallpox. However, the program faced many difficulties like lack of funding and personnel. Thus, despite the efforts made by WHO, the disease was still widespread in the 1960’s. Another program was now launched and named the Intensified Eradication Program. By this time, however, the US and the rest of North America had been declared smallpox-free. Soon, the rest of the world also became free of smallpox with the last case being recorded in 1975 in Bangladesh.


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