Outbreak organization and community participation

Outbreaks occur suddenly and often with little warning so there is no time to wait for help to arrive; the doctor, nurse or other health worker must take control. Generally, the temptation is to become so involved in patient management and treatment that no investigation is done. But until the cause of the outbreak is investigated, cases will continue and generally increase in number.

Help in patient care can be obtained from many sources, such as other health workers, public health inspectors, hospital porters, even cleaning staff, but probably the main resource will be relatives. In most societies, relatives will come with the patient and remain with them until they are cured. Care needs to be taken that they do not become patients themselves if it is a highly infectious disease, so instructions on preventive methods will need to be given and enforced.

In many communities, there is a local organization that should be involved at an early stage. This may be official, a village chief or headman; religious, the village priest; or just a respected member of the community such as a school teacher. In some countries, the local organization will have a person responsible for the health of the community or a village health committee. They will be of value in identifying cases, but even more useful in seeing that control measures, such as boiling drinking water, are enforced. They will also have a role in preventing the epidemic from starting up again in the future, such as ensuring that all children are vaccinated.

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