CDC Museum main exhibit hall

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein

Head to the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia for a fascinating look at the history of disease. The David J. Senser: CDC Museum, housed inside the Center of Disease Control, chronicles the various diseases that have challenged humans. Because the CDC is an integral part of the disease story, the museum is a perfect fit.

Immunization campaigns

The Influenza Pandemic and Immunization Campaigns- 

The Influenza Pandemic that swept the world in 1918, affected more than 500 million people, including 675,000 Americans who died. This was the first time photographs extensively chronicled human devastation. The photographs in the exhibit about the pandemic tell the story of the valiant efforts of health care workers and the military in the midst of devastating loss. I was particularly interested in how influenza spread so fiercely. World War I and the number of soldiers that traveled about the world was a major culprit. As they traveled, they brought the H1N1 virus with them.

Without vaccinations to prevent the virus nothing could stop influenza from spreading. Without antibiotics, there wasn’t a course of treatment for bacterial infections that appeared as a secondary issue. Quarantines, good hygiene and avoiding crowds were the only defense.

As vaccinations were developed, PR for immunizations was paramount to the success of prevention. Immunization posters helped spread the word.

Malaria, Legionaries Disease, AIDS and More

The scope of the Influenza Pandemic is only one exhibit. Think of a disease that has made the news and you’ll find its story in the artifacts, photos and text of the displays. Malaria, Legionnaires Disease, Ebola, AIDS, polio, measles and more are a testament to how fragile humans are but also how resilient.

Each exhibit explains in detail the causes and treatment of the disease and the cultural implications. One could get freaked out or take comfort.  Mostly, I tend to take comfort in the scope. In the 1980s, AIDS was mysterious, frightening and seemingly unstoppable. When I lived in Taiwan in the late 1990s, I was a volunteer for an AIDS organization. Back then, the misconceptions about this syndrome were stunning. These days, although there is not a cure for AIDS, prevention and treatment work.

Gun Violence as a Disease –

In addition to actual diseases caused by bacteria or viruses, the CDC covers one caused by human behavior. Gun Violence has made the CDC list. The use of violence through gun use, whether self-inflicted suicide or shooting another, the CDC is studying gun violence in terms of behavioral health.

Special Exhibits

Along with the permanent displays, changing exhibits show the connection between disease, health and other aspects of the human experience. Until April 26th, “By the People, Designing a Better America,” is on display. The exhibit shows how designers address social, health, economics and environmental challenges in today’s world.

From May 18 to August 30, the exhibit “The World Unseen: Intersections of Art and Science”will feature artwork from 10 international artists whose work conceptualizes in some way microbiology, biotechnology and anatomy of microbes, cells and DNA. Disease of course is an element of inspiration.

* Between April 27th and May 16th, the museum will be closed to switch out the special exhibit.

If You Go

  • Admission is free.
  • You will need a government issued photo ID to go through security if you are 18 and over.
  • If you are not a U.S. citizen, you will need to bring your passport.
  • Hours are Monday-Wed and Friday from 9 to 5. Thursday the museum is open until 7. Closed on weekends and federal holidays.