What is an outbreak report?

An outbreak report is a document summarising all the steps, main findings and recommendations of the outbreak investigation. It is a public record which has to be objective to reflect the reality of the investigation, clear so that decision makers and the scientific community can understand and use its content, and timely to provide feedback and recommendations on time to those who need them. It is better to have a short outbreak report soon rather than a very long document many months or years after the investigation.

Why write them?

  • The outbreak report is a document used to launch a control action, to guide public health measures and to inform decision makers.
  • The outbreak report is also a record of performance, summarising how the investigation has been conducted, its strengths and limitations. It presents the investigation methods and the control measures taken so that others can judge the validity of the results and the appropriateness of the actions carried out.
  • Potentially it can be used for legal issues
  • Writing the outbreak report represents a good opportunity for the investigator to revise the results, check errors and often while revising the evidence, new questions arise that would need further research.
  • The outbreak report is an excellent teaching material from which many others in the future can learn.
  • Finally, the outbreak report should be written because it helps preventing future outbreaks and assists in the investigation and control of similar outbreaks

Who writes the outbreak report?

The outbreak control team should write the outbreak report. Each member should contribute to have a comprehensive report including all the steps and aspects of the investigation.

The authors should be named specifying their role in the outbreak control team.

Each participating agency should agree with the document and this is often a challenge, especially if the aim is to have a timely report.

Another issue which needs to be agreed upon before starting writing the report is who owns the report: the participating agencies? the local authorities? the national authorities?  the patients? the public?

Who reads them?

The outbreak report is a document that each agency represented in the OCT will use to document its activities. Policy making bodies request it to have evidence for public health action. Moreover, professional colleagues will use it as reference for other similar outbreaks. The public may be also interested in reading the report to evaluate risks and be informed about the subject. Finally, as mentioned previously, if there is a suit against one of the involved parties, the outbreak report can be requested as legal document.