The journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, features artwork on its cover. Under the guidance of managing editor, Polyxeni Potter, these images are selected to enhance the journal's communication of its scientific public health content. Among the goals that govern the choice of its cover art are the editors' intention to illustrate ideas, stimulate the intellect, and fire the emotions (personal communication).

Acompanying each image is a one-page commentary on the artist, the topic depicted, and its relevance to infectious disease. Cover art (and commentary) from past issues can be accessed from the title page of each current issue.


These covers with commentary are an inspired project. The choice of artwork that accompanies each issue's research articles is imaginative and informative. Images range widely in era and art style. The commentaries provide useful historic background about the artist and context in which the work was produced, and give an interesting perspective on the effects of disease on individuals and societies.

The January, 2003 cover depicting Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas's "Noah's Ark" is a good example. The instructive commentary places the art and artist in a context of cubism, folk art, African sculpture, and African-American identity. Depiction of Noah's ark is linked to the modern quarantine necessitated by foot and mouth disease:

"Cataclysmic disasters fill the pages of human history, from Moses to 'the little Dutch boy.' The stuff of nightmares, these disasters touch a chord because they reach beyond individual tragedy to massive plight of global proportions. Like other universal themes, the ark derives its appeal from broad applicability: haven of last resort protects those inside from impending disaster for the greater good . . . Our times, plagued by (among other pestilences) the relentless emergence of global communicable disease, have constructed their own version of the ark, quarantine. But in this modern version, those sealed inside the vessel are not saved; they perish for the common good."

Other examples include Norman Rockwell's "Postman Reading Mail" linked with the topic of bio-terrorism related anthrax (Volume 8, No. 10, October 2002); Modigliani's "Self Portrait" linked with the topic, re-emerging tuberculosis (Volume 8, No. 11, November 2002) for which the commentary notes that the artist, who died at age 36 of tuberculosis, "painted the face of tuberculosis"; Giotto di Bondone's "St. Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata" linked with articles on West Nile virus.

This site is well worth visiting for anyone who is interested in integrating art, history, and social science with scientific research, public health, and medicine. Since it is a government site, it is freely available to anyone with access to the Internet.


D. Peter Drotman is the editor in chief of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Primary Source

hardcopy editions of the journal