Who is involved in controlling disease outbreaks?

Controlling outbreaks involves multidisciplinary teams with specific expertise in investigation, prevention and control of infectious diseases.

Coordination of multidisciplinary teams is critical to ensure outbreak preparedness and response is: effective, coherent, comprehensive and efficient.

Usually an experienced member is the Team Leader with responsibility for co-ordinating the response.



Clinicians work with national outbreak response authorities to develop and review treatment guidelines, prioritisation and triage plans, and infection prevention and control measures.

Advocacy provided by clinicians also increases access to essential medicines, vaccines, personal protective equipment and other supplies.

Clinicians lead trainings that improve the readiness of health workers to provide quality health services.


Immunization Coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa


Immunization coverage has stagnated at this figure over the past five years


children younger than 5 years are infected with vaccine-preventable diseases every year

> 500,000

children die due to lack of access to vaccines



Epidemiologists use data to generate information about infectious diseases to understand how best to prevent, prepare for and respond to epidemics.

They identify when outbreaks are happening, how many people are infected and where an outbreak is spreading.

Epidemiological data are used to develop predictive statistical models to estimate and inform ongoing and future outbreaks, and potential prevention and response scenarios.

Example data epidemiologists collect

From 1980 to 2013 there were 12,102 outbreaks of 215 human infectious diseases comprising 44 million cases in 219 nations.

Pie chart

35% of patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) infection died

The Nipah virus case fatality rate is

40% - 75%


Worldwide incidence of dengue has
risen 30-fold in the past 30 years



Microbiologists provide disease identification and molecular tracing of strains in an outbreak.

Microbiology laboratory capacity is an essential component of health system preparedness and a cornerstone in rapid detection, monitoring and response to outbreaks.

Working closely with epidemiologists, IPC specialists and clinicians, microbiologists provide critical information to develop appropriate responses, including case definitions, diagnostic testing requirements, clinical protocols and infection prevention and control measures.


75% of emerging infections affecting humans have an animal source


What do Ebola, Lassa fever, plague, rabies, Rift Valley fever and salmonella have in common?


They can spread between animals and people, known as 'zoonotic diseases'.

Social Scientists

Social Scientists

Social scientists investigate social, political and economic factors that enable the spread of disease and limit the effectiveness of outbreak responses.

Social Scientists are increasingly embedded in preparedness, response and post-outbreak activities.

Social Scientists explore context-specific issues key to outbreaks including: social mobilisation; behaviour change; community outreach; treatment of patients; and survivor support.

Common goals of social scientists to control outbreaks


Social scientists explore community attitude and beliefs to:

  • Prevent outbreaks from becoming widespread
  • End outbreaks faster
  • Minimise suffering and deaths
Infection Prevention & Control Specialists

Infection Prevention
& Control Specialists

IPC specialists focus on disease prevention through training and education, audit, surveillance and the provision of expert advice at all levels of the health system to prepare for and respond to outbreaks.

IPC specialists carry out comprehensive risk assessment to identify gaps in physical infrastructure and treatment plans or practices. IPC specialists advise where key improvements are needed to halt infection transmission.

To address identified gaps, they run trainings, develop promotional materials and provide regular monitoring and evaluation of outbreaks.

Infection Incubation Periods

The incubation period is the time between exposure to an infection and when symptoms start. Quarantine periods are partially informed by incubation periods.

Incubation period range for different infections


Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) Specialists


WASH specialists focus on the prevention and control of water-borne and other infectious diseases.

Ensuring access to sufficient clean and safe water and promoting good hygiene practices are key elements of effective WASH practices.

WASH interventions provide rapid relief to minimise the impact and spread of an outbreak.

WASH specialists are critical to building trust and accountability with affected communities. They are often involved in training health workers, as well as the general public, in safe water and sanitation practices.

Many people don't have access to clean water and basic sanitation

> 2 billion

people drink water from faecally contaminated water sources

2.4 billion

people are without basic sanitation facilities

Logistics & Security

Logistics and Security

Logisticians ensure effective and timely outbreak responses by planning, in collaboration with key stakeholders, for product transportation, quality assurance and cost.

Logisticians acquire, manage and deliver life-saving supplies at the right time, in the right place in an outbreak.

Managing the physical environment (inaccessible locations; security threats) and medical and related equipment storage (procurement and cold chain management) are key challenges logisticians overcome to stock and implement an outbreak response.

Logistics in figures


> 5,000,000

doses of oral cholera vaccine have been used in outbreaks and humanitarian emergencies since 2013


7,994 MT

of supplies arrived by sea and air to the Ebola-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone Aug 2014 - Apr 2015



sets of personal protective equipment were delivered to West Africa as part of the Ebola response in 2014