The History of Foreign Diseases and the Vaccinations to Fight against Them

By Lauryn Page | 08/26/2016
As part of a global society, the ability to contract and transmit a disease to others is easier than ever before. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is constantly fighting against the spread of various diseases that have led to epidemics in other countries. While some can be protected against through simple avoidance, others are harder to escape. Here are five recent types of disease that are prevalent in other countries and can be transmitted by others.  Also, to view a map with countries and their associated vaccine-preventable diseases click here


Measles is extremely contagious and at least 90% of people exposed become infected unless they’ve been vaccinated or had it before. There is no cure but most people who catch it survive the infection and have immunity for life. However, up to 5% of children die globally from lack of medical care and/or vaccination. Measles symptoms start with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat followed by a rash that spreads over the body 3 to 5 days after symptoms start. Measles can cause serious health complications, even death.

The first published account of measles was in the 9th century by a Persian doctor. In 1757, a Scottish physician, Francis Home, determined measles is caused by infected blood but the disease ran unabated until 1963. In 1912, the United States designated the measles as a nationally notifiable disease and providers and laboratories had to report all diagnosed cases. An average of 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported each year for more than a decade. Even with the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, there was a measles outbreak between 1989 and 1991. Over 1500 Philadelphia residents contracted the disease due to not being immunized against the disease.

In 2000, ongoing measles transmission was declared eliminated and the CDC reports that 50% of measles cases are from travelers and residents returning from other countries.


Malaria has been researched for more than 4,000 years and has impacted human population throughout history. Malaria can be categorized as uncomplicated or severe caused by a parasite that infects certain types of mosquitos and is then passed to humans. It can be a fatal disease but is curable if diagnosed and treated properly. Malaria is often mistaken for seasonal flu since the symptoms include chills, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and fever. It can cause jaundice and anemia and depending on the severity, malaria may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death. 

There is no vaccine for malaria. The only recourse is taking anti-malarial drugs when diagnosed.  In 1880, Charles Laveran, a French army surgeon, was the first to discover parasites in the blood of a malaria patient. Numerous breakthroughs happened over the next two decades:

  • 1886 – Two different species of Malaria discovered
  • 1890, 1897 – Naming of human malaria parasites
  • 1898 – Discovered mosquitos transmit malaria parasites

Malaria was considered eliminated in the United States in 1951 however, like measles, traveling overseas has caused at least 1,500 cases each year. Over 214 million clinical episodes and 438,000 deaths were reported in 2015.

Yellow Fever

The Yellow Fever virus is transmitted by infected mosquitos indigenous to tropical and subtropical regions of Africa and South America. The disease affects about 200,000 people a year, causing fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and headaches. Most patients recover after 3 -4 days however, an estimated 15% enter a second phase after remission and half of those patients die. Yellow fever is responsible for at least 30,000 deaths globally each year and though there is no cure, it is completely preventable. 

In 1936, Max Theiler developed the vaccine that is still use today. Because of the devastating effects of yellow fever, most countries will not allow entry without proof of vaccination. The vaccine is recommended for people nine months and older traveling to or living in an at-risk area. Travelers should check with the destination country for exact requirements. 


The Ebola virus was discovered in West Africa in 1976, near the Ebola river. It is contracted through blood or bodily fluids of someone who is sick or has died from the disease. Symptoms include fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and unexplained bleeding or bruising. Symptoms may appear from 2 to 21 days after exposure but the average is between 8 and 10 days. Ebola is often misdiagnosed as malaria or typhoid fever. 

There is no vaccine available for the Ebola virus. Symptoms and complications are treated as they appear. Experimental vaccines and treatments are under development but have not been tested for effectiveness nor safety. Recovering from Ebola depends on the patient’s immune system and good supportive care. 


Zika outbreaks are occurring in multiple places, including most recently in Miami, Florida. Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, headache, and muscle pain. Zika is primarily transmitted through infected mosquitos but can be passed through sexual intercourse and from a pregnant woman to her child. The child can develop birth defects of the brain, microcephaly, and other severe fetal defects and impaired growth. The virus is also linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome. A blood or urine test determines infection diagnosis. 

Like Ebola, there is no vaccine or medicine available to treat Zika. The CDC encourages using insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and dressing in long-sleeved shirts and pants as well as using mosquito netting as necessary. People should also remove standing water around the home and stay in an air-conditioned area.