Infectious Disease Outbreaks


Preparing for and Preventing the Next Disease Outbreak

The challenge of Infectious Disease:  where does it begin and how does it spread? Infectious Disease outbreaks can arise from different sources (natural or manmade) and spread through several means of transmission involving everything from known carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks, to contaminated water and food supply or simple human contact. 

Confronting an Outbreak

Since many infectious diseases can only be treated and not cured, protection, prevention and treatment resources are critical in containing an outbreak. Our emergency response effort often centers on educational programs accompanied by vaccination (if one is available) and other prevention programs. Community knowledge can be the most effective component of prevention.

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Conditions for a Disease Disaster

Water and sanitation: Water borne disease might come after a flooding disaster overwhelms local sanitation and contaminates the water supply,  infecting those who use the water. In the case of Haiti after the Earthquake, water contaminated by human waste combined with poor sanitation quickly spread and infected thousands of Haitians with a new strain of cholera to which they had no immunity and which a crippled health system had few resources to contain. According to the World Health Organization, there are roughly 3 million cases a year and 90,000 deaths.  Patients can lose so much fluid from diarrhea and vomiting that they rapidly become dehydrated and their internal organs shut down; they can die within hours. Cholera is treatable and preventable but it has become a major health threat in places such as Yemen and now Mozambique.

Civil conflict can lead to a cascade of treatable but potentially deadly outbreaks (e.g. Yemen Complex Emergency, beginning with cholera, then typhoid, and then tuberculosis). These threats generally come after the health system, safe water supplies and sanitation are damaged or disrupted. Preparation and response for such outbreaks involves purification supplies to ensure safe water and prepositioned treatment supplies such as oral and IV rehydration supplies for cholera. Treatment for cholera and other diarrheal diseases involves large quantities of sterile solutions.

Human contact: In December 2013, a little boy in a village in Guinea, became ill and died just a few days later. This death, unnoticed at the time by few beyond family and neighbors, set off a horrific Ebola outbreak in West Africa, infecting over 26,900  people and killing more than 11,000. In the case of something as deadly as Ebola, new treatment centers and specialized training with protective equipment were necessary to meet this unexpected menace in countries with few or no resources to stop the epidemic. And now another Ebola outbreak has appeared in the Democratic Republic of Congo that threatens to expand beyond the borders of the country. More than 1,000 people have already died in this outbreak which has been exacerbated by violence in the region affecting health workers.

Mosquitoes: Where there is standing water and significant rain, mosquitoes can breed and thrive. And in various regions of the world, they can carry painful and sometimes deadly diseases such as chikungunya, dengue and malaria, transmitted through a bite into the human bloodstream. The list of mosquito borne diseases continues to grow as newer threats like Zika  appear with dangerous longer term effects. Since these diseases are not easily treated or cured, preparing and responding involves various methods of mosquito control and protection from mosquito bites.   And we must now consider the impact of climate change on the spread of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. "Researchers believe as many as a billion people could be newly exposed to these illnesses within the century if climate change goes unchecked" (NPR story on  study in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases) 



Outbreak Threats

In each infectious disease outbreak, thoughtful preparation along with rapid mobilization of health workers, medicine and specialized supplies can limit the suffering and slow or stop the spread of the disease.


 Sudden outbreak of infectious disease such as Ebola overwhelms local health system.


Coordination with local and international health authorities, health care providers and other NGO partners to provide medicine and supplies and even temporary facilities and staff to handle the surge of those infected.


 Infection of health workers further weakens the health system.


Provide protective gear and supplies to limit the exposure of health workers, along with support for more health workers from our Medical Outreach program and other health partners or our Emergency Response Roster to augment the local health system.


 Disease outbreak diminishes health centers capacity to treat normal health issues along with loss of trust in the health system. 


Building capacity with emergency medical teams helping to manage the surge along with outreach through community health workers and volunteers to reassure community that regular and safe care is available.


 In the case of diarrheal disease, limited availability of IV solutions and supplies - the primary treatment for the diseases.


Pre-positioning of rehydration solutions and supplies such as "cholera kits" or local sourcing so that the logistics of shipping large quantities of fluid via sea container does not delay the response to a disease that can kill within hours if untreated.  


 Disease continues to spread and infect more people.


Working with the Ministry of Health, engage community members and local authorities in tracking the people infected and their contacts. Then focus on community outreach and education to teach WASH and provide other appropriate disease prevention information and supplies. Support an immunization effort if a vaccine is available.


 Mosquito borne disease outbreak. (e.g. Zika)


Focus on mosquito control measures through community education and distribution of key supplies including mosquito nets, repellant, protective clothing and eradication equipment.


Our ability to halt a disease outbreak depends on our dedicated local partners and good neighbors like you who step up and provide the resources to do the work.


The Ready Cycle Plans for the Worst

Emergency programs at Americares represent a continuous cycle of Ready, Respond, Recover and then get Ready again, only better. Each disaster presents a new set of challenges to lay the foundation for a better response the next time around.  It is a dynamic process, ever changing as more extreme weather, new disease outbreaks and unforeseen manmade crises arise – always demanding that we increase our knowledge and capabilities especially as new or more deadly disease threats appear. In that work, we are ever mindful and incredibly grateful for the ongoing support of our donors and the presence of local partners who have the ground sense and skill necessary to meet the challenges and often only lack resources to prepare for them.

On the Frontlines of an Outbreak

An infectious disease outbreak can arise suddenly without warning.  The challenge for health workers is to stop the spread while safely treating those already infected.