Outbreak Investigations

Elizabeth A. Campbell, BS, RN, CIC, FAPIC Infection Prevention and Control

Naval Health Clinic Annapolis

Annapolis, MD

C. Lynn Eichhorn, BSN, RN, CIC, CNOR Infection Prevention and Control

MEDIG Hotline Coordinator

Naval Health Clinic Charleston

Charleston, SC

Revised Publication:
April 6, 2020
Original Publication:
October 2, 2014
Declarations of Conflicts of Interest:
  • Elizabeth A. Campbell reports no potential conflicts of interest.
  • C. Lynn Eichhorn reports no potential conflicts of interest.


Disease outbreaks are adverse events which can occur in any healthcare setting and pose a threat to patient safety and lives. Regardless of scope, an investigation of a potential outbreak involves certain predictable epidemiological elements. Each inquiry requires a systematic approach to verification of diagnosis, formation of a case definition, creating a line list, preparing an epidemic curve of disease distribution, and implementing infection prevention and control measures. Communication and mutual cooperation between the healthcare team, public health experts, and the infection preventionists lead to effective management. The ultimate goal of any outbreak investigation is to promptly identify problematic pathogens, stop ongoing disease transmission, and reduce risks for future events.