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Helpful Tips for Recreational Water Illness Outbreak Response

Note: The tips on this page were gathered from discussions with various people working in state and local health departments who had recent experience with recreational water illness (RWI) outbreaks. This is not an exhaustive list, but should prove helpful.


  • Establish key contacts with partners at other local or state health departments and community parters such as laboratories, media, and child care centers.
  • 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. Other state health department or local health departments may be able to share resources.
  • Share information with other health departments and community partners. This can speed up the investigation process and help 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, press conferences, the Internet, and other types of public outreach.
  • If possible, establish a hotline for outbreak-related calls.


  • 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, 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, and share information.
  • 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 hours spent on the outbreak for future budgetary/resource reference.

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Media Relations

  • Establish contact points with media sources.
  • Form a working group (if possible) to establish good relationships with the media.
  • Provide the media with 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 the who, what, where, when, and why of 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 giving exact numbers.

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