Outbreak investigation is part of public health care efforts in dealing with outbreaks that occur within a specific community. The importance of this investigation is revealed by its role in reducing the negative health effects of an outbreak (Hait, Tallent, Melka, Keys & Bennett, 2012). This essay presents a detailed definition of an outbreak investigation and the associated terms and a description of the main steps in the outbreak investigation processes.
Outbreak investigation is defined as the investigation of a disease outbreak, which includes an analysis of its causes and assessment of its impact with a view of designing and implementing the most effective public health interventions. An outbreak is when an infection of a specified disease occurs and affects a small and localized group, such as a village. The term outbreak is also used to describe an epidemic (Mellou, Sideroglou & Vantarakis, 2013). Outbreak investigation is an important aspect of public health response, when a population experiences an outbreak. Outbreak investigations are defined by local public health care policies and legislation. The availability of resources and reporting requirement also define the intervention processes and activities that public health professionals implement in outbreak investigations. The main goal of an outbreak investigation is to determine the kind and nature of a disease causing infection (Johnson, 2014).
The intention of outbreak investigations is to reduce the negative health impacts of an outbreak upon a population. It involves public health agencies and requires that there is rapid investigation or water-borne and food-borne infections because they may spread quickly within a population. An outbreak investigation is based on an official notification of an outbreak and requests for public health or epidemiological assistance in curbing the effects of the outbreak. Emergency responses are vital in outbreak investigations for both environmental diseases and infections. This is important because it allows public health professionals to quantify the negative implications of an infection and determine the most suitable responses in a timely manner.
Steps in an Outbreak Investigation
The first step in an outbreak investigation is the verification of a diagnosis of the outbreak. This is done during initial assessment of the outbreak by public health professionals. It is aimed at confirming whether there is an outbreak. This step involves the review of cases, which is aligned with epidemiological characteristics of a population, such as place, age, occupation, numbers affected, time and residence. Interviews are conducted whenever possible (Johnson, 2014). Experts also assess and discuss laboratory results before making a conclusive diagnosis. The second step involves the identification of the infection or outbreak in line with the geographical area and whether the affected group is normal in the similar time of the year. This is followed by the third step in which the public health providers create a case definition related to the outbreak. This step involves defining the persons that are who are includes or part of the case (Hall, Eisenbart & Parashar, 2012).
The fourth step in an outbreak investigation is mapping the direction of spread of the outbreak. This involves the use of technological tools. This step is important because it allows public health officials to determine the speed at which the outbreak is spreading and determine the best ways through which its spread is to be managed. The fifth step involves developing a hypothesis about the outbreak. In developing the hypothesis, public health officers try to determine what is causing the infection or outbreak (Sistrom & Hale, 2009). This is followed by the sixth step in which data is gathered and analyzed. This is important because it acts as a foundation upon which relevant and effective interventions of curbing the spread and effects of the outbreak are based (Hall, Eisenbart & Parashar, 2012). The seventh step is the refining of the hypothesis and executing further investigations. This paves way for the eight step which entails designing and developing prevention or control systems. Finally, an outbreak investigation ends with the release of investigation findings to other populations or communities. These findings are used to deal with future outbreaks of the same nature (Sistrom & Hale, 2009).
From the above discussion, it is evident that an outbreak investigation is a very important intervention in public health care practice. Through an outbreak investigation, credible and reliable data is gathered, analyzed and presented to stakeholders in order to allow the implantation of effective strategies in curbing the effects of current and future outbreaks. It is therefore the role of public health care professionals to ensure that they conduct an elaborate and effective outbreak investigation by employing appropriate methodologies in the investigation and data analysis processes.
Hait, J., Tallent, S., Melka, D., Keys, C., & Bennett, R. (2012). Staphylococcus aureus Outbreak Investigation of an Illinois Bakery. Journal of Food Safety, 32(4), 435-444
Hall, A. J., Eisenbart, V. G. & Parashar, U. D. (2012). Epidemiology of Foodborne Norovirus Outbreaks, United States, 2001-2008. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 18(10), 1566-1573.
Johnson, D. R. (2014). The steps from outbreak to investigation To Recall. National Provisioner, 228(7), 11-12.
Mellou, K., Sideroglou, T. & Vantarakis, A. (2013). Epidemiological investigation of two parallel gastroenteritis outbreaks in school settings. BMC Public Health, 13(1), 1-7.
Sistrom, M., & Hale, P. J. (2009). Outbreak Investigations: Community Participation and Role of Community and Public Health Nurses. Public Health Nursing, 23(3), 256-263.