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It is imperative to use clinical symptoms as a means to detect a possible infectious process, determine the volume of clusters, and begin the process to intervene to reduce spread (Grota & Ackiss, 2014). Epidemiologists determine a hypothesis about the potential risk for a given population within a geographic area of developing the illness. This risk within a given population is known as the attack rate. It allows investigators to identify how quickly an illness is spreading amongst a population (Friis, 2010). Attack rates provide the opportunity to determine a possible incubation period, narrow down the possible causative organism, and help to determine how long preventive measures may need to be implemented. By estimating how fast an illness is spreading, the infection preventionist can determine the need to expedite interventions, explore additional supportive measures to immunize or screen, provide personal protective equipment, or even mandate quarantines.

Public health surveillance and clinical recognition of illness symptoms are key to detecting a possible outbreak (CDC, 2017c). Outbreak investigation is vital to stopping further transmissions of infectious organisms, as well as preventing future epidemics. Clinicians are frequently the first point of contact for infectious patients who present to offices or emergency rooms with active symptoms. The astute clinician, recognizes patients with similar clinical presentations or illness and conveys those concerns to appropriate public health agencies and laboratories. These agencies involve a multidisciplinary team of physicians, lab specialists, investigators, and microbiologists who assist in accurate, early identification of infectious organisms as recommended by current laboratory guidelines and standards (CDC, 2017c). Clusters of people with a similar clinical presentation of an infectious illness that is confirmed by laboratory testing as the same organism would be considered an outbreak.

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