Several infectious diseases are either not seen in Vermont, or are no longer a serious threat to Vermonters because of prevention methods, such as vaccination. However, even rare diseases require attention due to the possibility of importation from people traveling abroad.

In industrialized countries where the number of deaths caused by infectious diseases declined greatly over the past century, the concern is preventing diseases from entering and causing an outbreak or re-emergence.

In developing countries, the concern is detecting disease outbreaks early and stopping their spread. Both situations require strong surveillance systems for early disease detection. In addition, important public health practices such as vaccination and emergency preparedness help reduce the likelihood of disease spread in the event of an importation, and ensure a rapid response to any disease threat.


Diphtheria is an illness caused by the Corynebacterium diphtheriae bacterium. The bacterium infects the lining of the respiratory system and releases toxins that cause weakness, sore throat, fever, and swollen glands in the neck. The toxin kills healthy tissues in the respiratory system, which then build up in the throat and nose making it difficult to breathe and swallow. The toxin can also get into the blood stream and cause damage to the heart, kidneys, and nerves. Even with appropriate treatment, diphtheria is fatal in about 10% of infected people. Diphtheria is rare in industrialized countries, including the U.S, but continues to occur in other parts of the world, particularly in tropical countries.

Diphtheria is preventable by vaccine. Learn more about diphtheria vaccinations.


Ebola hemorrhagic fever, or simply Ebola, is an infection in humans and other primates caused by a group of five Ebola virus species. Outbreaks of Ebola have primarily occurred in African countries, with isolated cases in the United States among people who had traveled to infected areas. The 2014 Ebola epidemic was the largest in history, with widespread transmission in multiple countries in West Africa, including Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali.

Symptoms of Ebola occur within two to 21 days after exposure and can include fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, muscle pain, or unexplained bleeding or bruising. People can get Ebola from direct contact with bodily fluids and blood of infected humans and animals, including through sexual activities.

It's important to know:
  • The risk of Ebola spreading in the U.S. and Vermont is very low.

  • You can’t get Ebola from a person who has no symptoms.

  • Ebola is spread through direct contact with blood and bodily fluids of a person who is sick with the disease.

  • Ebola is NOT spread through the air, water, or food.

Information for Health Care Professionals and Facilities

If a patient presents with Ebola-like symptoms (headache, weakness, muscle pain, diarrhea, abdominal pain or hemorrhage) or has a fever and has travelled to an Ebola-affected area in the 21 days before illness onset, consider it a reportable case and contact the Health Department

In addition to contacting the Health Department, isolate the patient in a private room and implement standard contact and droplet precautions such as gowns, facemasks, eye protection, and gloves.

Laboratory Testing Information

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by the MERS coronavirus (CoV) that was first reported in the Arabian Peninsula in 2012. Most people with MERS-CoV develop acute respiratory illness with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Around 35% of confirmed cases of MERS-CoV have been fatal. People can protect themselves from respiratory illnesses such as MERS-CoV by washing their hands often, avoiding touching their face with unwashed hands, avoiding close contact with people who appear sick, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

There have been no confirmed cases of MERS-CoV in Vermont. There were two confirmed cases of MERS-CoV in the United States in 2014. These are the only two patients in the U.S. that have ever tested positive for MERS-CoV infection while more than 750 have tested negative.

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Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a crippling and potentially deadly disease caused by the poliovirus.

While most people who get infected with poliovirus have no visible symptoms, one out of four will experience flu-like symptoms.

A small number of people who are infected with poliovirus will develop more serious symptoms that affect the brain and spinal cord. These symptoms include paresthesia or a feeling of pins and needles in the legs; meningitis, an infection of the covering of the spinal cord and/or brain; paralysis, not being able to move parts of the body; and weakness in the arms and/or legs. Paralysis is the most severe symptom associated with polio because it can lead to permanent disability and death.

People can get poliovirus from person-to-person contact. Polio spreads through contact with feces or through the droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person. People who do not have symptoms can still pass the virus and make people sick.

While polio is very contagious, the United States has been polio-free since 1979, thanks to effective vaccines. Because of this success, the Health Department recommends that parents follow the vaccination schedule.

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Rubella, also called German Measles, is a contagious disease caused by a virus.

The first sign of rubella is usually a red rash appearing on the face and then spreading to the rest of the body. Other symptoms that may occur 1 to 5 days before the rash appears include low-grade fever, headaches, mild pink eye, discomfort, swollen and enlarged lymph nodes, cough, and runny nose.

Up to half of the people infected with rubella will not show any symptoms. Rubella spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Also, if a woman is infected with rubella while she is pregnant, she can pass the virus to her developing baby.

Since 2004, rubella is no longer constantly present in the United States. However, vaccination against rubella is still recommended since it remains a problem in other parts of the world and cases in the U.S. still occur in people who have lived or traveled outside of the United States.

Congenital Rubella Syndrome and other pregnancy risks with rubella:

Rubella is very dangerous for a pregnant woman and her developing baby. Mothers who are not vaccinated against rubella are at risk of getting the disease. Pregnant women who get rubella, especially in the first 12 weeks, are at risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, and their developing babies are at risk of serious birth defects.

The most common birth defects from congenital rubella syndrome are deafness, cataracts, heart defects, intellectual disabilities, liver and spleen damage, low birth weight, and skin rash at birth. Less common complications include glaucoma, brain damage, thyroid and other hormone problems, and inflammation of the lungs.

While it is important to get vaccinated against rubella before pregnancy, the Health Department recommends that mothers do not receive the rubella vaccine during pregnancy or four weeks before getting pregnant.

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Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani that lives everywhere in the environment, including soil, dust, and manure. The bacteria usually enter the body through broken skin such as puncture wounds, open wounds and burns. Most illnesses happen within 14 days of infection, although dirty wounds can lead to more severe disease in a shorter amount of time.

Tetanus is often called “lockjaw” because the most common first sign is a spasm of the muscles of the jaw, where the person cannot open their mouth. Other symptoms of tetanus include headache, painful muscle stiffness, trouble swallowing, jerking or staring, fever and sweating, high blood pressure and fast heart rate, and difficulty breathing which can lead to death in severe cases.

Tetanus is preventable by vaccine. Learn more about tetanus vaccination

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