Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), collected and digitized all weekly surveillance tables for reportable diseases in the United States published between 1888 and 2013.

The database, called Project Tycho,was developed as a resource to aid scientists and public health officials in the eradication of deadly and devastating diseases.

“Analyzing historical epidemiological data can reveal patterns that help us understand how infectious diseases spread and what interventions have been most effective,” said Irene Eckstrand, PhD, of NIH, which partially funded the research through its Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study. “This new work shows the value of using computational methods to study historical data – in this case, to show the impact of vaccination in reducing the burden of infectious diseases over the past century.”

The database makes three levels of information available:

  • Level 1 data includes data standardized for specific analyses.
  • Level 2 data includes standardized data for immediate analysis.
  • Level 3 data are raw data requiring extensive data management prior to analysis.

The researchers selected eight vaccine-preventable contagious diseases for a more detailed analysis: smallpox, polio, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis A, diphtheria, and pertussis. By overlaying the reported outbreaks with the year of vaccine licensure, the researchers give a clear, visual representation of the effect vaccines have in controlling communicable diseases.

“We are very excited about the release of the database,” said Steven Buchsbaum, deputy director, Discovery and Translational Sciences, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We anticipate this will not only prove to be an invaluable tool permitting researchers around the globe to develop, test and validate epidemiological models, but also has the potential to serve as a model for how other organizations could make similar sets of critical public health data more broadly, publicly available.”