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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: the branch of the U.S. Public Health Service under the Department of Health and Human Services charged with the investigation and control of contagious disease in the nation.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does the CDC mean?

The CDC stands for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, the CDC is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The core mission of the CDC is to promote and protect the public health of the United States by preventing and controlling health threats, notably the spread of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, swine flu, and types of coronavirus. The CDC works to fulfill this mission by conducting vital scientific research, compiling critical health statistics, carrying out important health surveillance, and delivering educational programs and services to the public.

Other key activities of the CDC focus on environmental health (under its National Center for Environmental Health, or NCEH) and occupational health and safety (under its National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, or NIOSH). Non-infectious diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity, are also focuses of the CDC, as are birth defects and developmental disabilities.

The CDC was founded in 1946 in Atlanta by physician and lifelong public health servant Joseph Mountin. It was known as the Communicable Disease Center (which may help explain why we continue to abbreviate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the CDC, not CDCP). Its original mission, as was true of its preceding agencies, was helping to fight the spread of malaria in the United States. The CDC soon after expanded to tackle such highly contagious diseases as polio and smallpox.

While the CDC has since become one of the world’s leading epidemiological centers, the Communicable Disease Center was formed as just a minor branch of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), a division of HHS. Its original budget was a mere $10 million and under 400 people made up its staff—compared to the billions in its budget and the thousands on its staff today.

The CDC also has a number of offices outside Atlanta, from California to Ohio and Puerto Rico, as well as quarantine stations throughout the United States. It maintains a website (cdc.gov) that offers essential information and updates on diseases and emergency preparedness.

Other divisions of the USPHS include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The CDC is one of several federal institutions, such as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), that are best known by their abbreviated names. The word centers in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is plural because the CDC oversees a number of specialized centers and institutes, such as NIOSH.

Did you know ... ?

Have ever wondered why the CDC was founded in Atlanta, Georgia?

Well, when it was first established in the 1940s, malaria was still regularly found (endemic) in the United States, especially in the Southeast. During World War II, many soldiers were sent off to fight (and returned home) to bases in the Southeast, so controlling malaria there was vital. Additionally, as remains true today, Atlanta was a major transportation hub, helping it to mobilize its disease-fighting efforts.

In popular culture, the CDC prominently figures in the first season (2010) of the hit AMC zombie apocalypse TV drama, The Walking Dead.

How to use CDC in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for CDC


abbreviation for
(in the US) Center for Disease Control
Commonwealth Development Corporation
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for CDC


A government agency headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, which is responsible for the control and suppression of infectious diseases. It offers a national information database on infectious disease and national support to the health care community by providing research and control measures in response to imminent health threats, such as epidemics.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.