Hot Topic - Fellows Discuss How They and Their Organizations Define "Outbreaks"

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Nov 16, 2018
by Anna Rawe
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Hot Topic - Fellows Discuss How They and Their Organizations Define "Outbreaks"

Salzburg Global Fellows share their views during Session 613 - Finding Outbreaks Faster - How Do We Measure Progress? Salzburg Global Fellows share their views during Session 613 - Finding Outbreaks Faster - How Do We Measure Progress?

A select number of Fellows at Finding Outbreaks Faster: How Do We Measure Progress? were asked: How do you and your organization define an outbreak? We have published their answers below.

"We have very huge debates back home about defining an outbreak, but at least we come to the standard saying that when two cases are linked epidemiologically to each other, of the same disease of course, then we might call it an outbreak and that’s the baseline of the outbreak. Then the more cases come, the bigger the outbreak.”

Kujtim Mersinaj

One Health expert at the South East European Center for Surveillance and Control of Infectious Disease (SECID)

"You could have a fixed metric where you just say two cases or whatever that have an epidemiological link, and I don’t really believe in that. I believe in that unusual thresholds, anything that’s unusual, or even one case could potentially be a threat to health security... the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control... are concerned about events that could potentially overrun the public health infrastructure in Europe, and so we use specific filtering criteria to assess these kinds of events. So, outbreaks are events related to communicable diseases extending to more than one member state... but we are also concerned about the events that... are at risk of introduction or propagation between member states.”

Jan Semenza

Directs the work on environmental and social determinants of infectious diseases at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

“I have to use the definition of our FETP training... that the number of cases - observed cases - exceeds the number of expected cases. So, [if] it’s above a known threshold, it can become an outbreak. If it starts in a country that is not expecting Ebola, we have zero cases of that disease and then suddenly we see one case that is above the expected threshold, so we consider that to be an outbreak even with one case.”

Angela Hilmers

Senior associate director for science at TEPHINET

“An outbreak is the unusual, sudden increase above the normal levels of a disease or new disease anywhere defined by its characteristics in people - young children, women, older people... Is it in towns or rural areas? ... transmission and characteristics are different in those places... and time: when is this happening? And what are the basic characteristics of this disease? Is it something that can spread very fast? If [it can] it’s an outbreak even if it’s a very small amount, even if it’s a single case [it] can be an outbreak...”

Andrew Kitua

Epidemiologist and current Africa region director of the USAID/EPT2 Preparedness and Response project implemented by DAI


The program Finding Outbreaks Faster: How Do We Measure Progress? is being held in partnership with Ending Pandemics and the University of Minnesota. To keep up to date with the conversations taking place during the program, please follow #SGShealth on Twitter and Instagram.