Emergencies preparedness, response

Infection prevention and control in health care for preparedness and response to outbreaks


The emergence of life-threatening infections such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and viral haemorrhagic fevers (e.g., Ebola and Marburg viral infections) highlight the urgent need for efficient infection control practices in health care. Failure to apply infection control measures favours the spread of pathogens, and health-care settings can act as amplifiers of disease during outbreaks, with an impact on both hospital and community health.

If outbreaks hit health care settings without a culture of safe practices, the risk of disruption to health care system can be high. Among many important lessons derived from the SARS pandemic, being prepared and having a culture of safe health care practices that can prevent and control pathogen dissemination is key to coping with outbreak situations.

The implementation of the International Health Regulations (2005) is essential for protection against international spread of disease. A rapid response to infectious threats of public health concern requires early warning. Health-care settings are in the front-line of containment and response strategies, and the hospital-based and public health surveillance systems must be formally and efficiently linked to assure such early notice.

The occurrence of several large outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza associated with epizootic transmission to humans raises international concern of a new influenza virus with potential to emerge and spread. The development of effective tools and resources to minimize transmission of a new pandemic influenza virus when providing heath care and disruption of healthcare delivery is an immediate need.

A huge gap still exists between the knowledge accumulated over the past decades and implementation of infection control practices. This gap is even deeper in poor-resource settings with devastating consequences. Breaches in infection control measures undermine every advance and investment in health care.