Disease

Key Points

  • Throughout history disease outbreaks have changed and shaped society. The impact of these diseases varies based on the severity of the disease, duration of the illness and spread within the community.

  • The most threatening emergency management situation is the outbreak of a new disease with high rates of illness and death. New disease outbreaks can quickly overwhelm local hospitals, healthcare providers and decrease society's ability to maintain critical services.

  • An outbreak can be characterized by the extent of spread of the disease. An outbreak is considered pandemic if the disease spreads throughout the world. The outbreak is considered epidemic if it's above normal disease levels within a geographical area. More common diseases are classified as endemic, as they are at or below normal levels within a community. Brand new diseases can quickly become an epidemic/pandemic if there is little or no immunity in the population.

  • Common disease outbreaks include influenza, Pertussis, hepatitis, Salmonella, E. coli and Tuberculosis. New strains of influenza are a great risk to King County, due to the low immunity in the community, the potential for severe symptoms, and the speed at which the virus can spread from person to person. It is estimated that a severe pandemic influenza could cause illness in 540,000 people and more than 11,000 deaths in King County.

  • For King County, the Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization Section within Public Health - Seattle & King County investigates and coordinates the Public Health surveillance of disease outbreaks.

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