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Helpful Tips for Drinking Water Outbreak Response


  • Establish key contacts at partner institutions such as other local or state health departments, laboratories, the media, daycare centers, etc. Check resources and contingency plans. If your health department is low on resources, think ahead to what types of equipment or other resources may be needed in the outbreak response. Perhaps your state health department or nearby local health departments will be able to share resources. Share information with other health departments and facilities. This can speed up the investigation process and help health departments fill knowledge gaps. At the beginning of an outbreak it’s important to identify as many confirmed cases as possible to help find the source of the outbreak. This can be done through mass mailings, newspaper ads, etc.
  • If possible, establish a hotline for outbreak-related calls.
  • Go to Chapter 5 "Outbreak Management" in the Cryptosporidium and Water: A Public Health Handbook [PDF - 1.12 mb] for more detailed outbreak management tips; it is specific to Cryptosporidium outbreaks but parts can be applied to outbreaks caused by other pathogens.


  • At the beginning of the investigation, get a realistic idea of the turnaround time on lab tests.
  • If the labs are backlogged, consider using private labs/hospitals.
  • CDC’s DPDx offers technical assistance for state and local health department laboratorians, including reference and training; and diagnostic assistance.

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Communications with other Health Departments or Agencies

  • Make periodic, regularly scheduled conference calls with established key contacts. Keep everyone informed, plan next steps, share information, etc.
  • Decide what information is to be shared and how to share it.
  • Decide on a mechanism to use in sharing information, such as e-mail or fax. Make sure all channels of communication are in working order.

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  • Keep a log of phone calls regarding the outbreak.
  • Document the number of man/woman hours spent on the outbreak for future budgetary/resource reference.

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Media Relations

  • Establish contact points with media sources.
  • If necessary, form a working group to establish good relationships with the media.
  • Give them fact sheets on the pathogen.
  • Send out frequent updates to keep the media correctly informed.

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Press Releases

  • When putting together a press release on the pathogen, include any information from existing pathogen-specific fact sheets. You can download any information needed from the links below or your health department’s own site so that the press and any concerned citizens may access the information easily.
  • Most press releases should include appropriate information regarding person, place, and time related to the outbreak.
  • Consider being somewhat vague when reporting the number of cases to give room for decreasing or increasing case counts as tests are verified or case definitions change. For example, you can say "greater than" or "less than (x) cases," rather than give exact numbers.

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