SHEA Releases New Guidance for Infectious Disease Outbreak Preparedness in Hospitals


The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released new expert guidance to help hospitals prepare for and contain infectious disease outbreaks.

Hospitals and other health care facilities play a critical role when it comes to responding to infectious disease outbreaks. In order to gain some semblance of control when the unexpected happens, preparedness is key.

To this end, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) garnered support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to draft up a new expert guidance document for hospitals to prepare and contain future infectious disease outbreaks. The guidance was published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, according to a recent press release.

A longstanding issue within hospitals according to some key opinion leaders in the field is that the role of the hospital epidemiologist has yet to be clearly defined, but the guidance may finally fill that gap. “We don’t have a clear delineation of our role and what it is that we do that other members of the team don’t do,” Silvia Munoz-Price, MD, PhD stressed in an exclusive interview with Contagion® at last year’s SHEA conference. “I feel that grey area at some point expands and makes our turf contract. That’s why I think a clear delineation of our role will be helpful so that we can continue working in more functional teams in the future.”

In the press release, David Banach, MD, co-chair of the writing panel and assistant professor of Medicine at the University of Connecticut and hospital epidemiologist at UConn Health, explained that the guidance details the role of the hospital epidemiologist “as an expert and leader supporting hospitals in preparing for, stopping, and recovering from infectious diseases crises.” The hope is that this guidance will assist hospital epidemiologists with the tools to utilize in tandem with the skills and expertise that they already have to respond to outbreaks within a hospital’s incident command system.

What will a hospital epidemiologist do when outbreaks spring up?

  • Provide medical and technical expertise to lead infection prevention and control efforts
  • Coordinate with institutional stakeholders
  • Provide input into internal and external communications

This is not the first effort made by SHEA and the CDC to better prepare health care epidemiologists for health crises. In 2016, the 2 organizations created the Outbreak Response Training Program to help epidemiologists “maximize their facilities’ preparedness and response efforts” in order to respond to deadly infectious disease outbreaks. The new guidance takes that a step further, showing epidemiologists how to “apply, use, and interact with emergency response structures, groups, and frameworks, from the institutional to the federal levels,” in addition to providing an outline of helpful resources. Although the guidance is intended for use in acute care hospitals, in particular, it may be applicable to other health care facilities as well, like free-standing emergency departments and long-term care facilities.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) such as Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are a major threat to patient safety and result in a staggering amount of excess financial burden on health care facilities. The CDC estimates that 1 in 25 hospital patients is suffering from at least 1 HAI, and many of these infections are easily spread throughout facilities; in fact, many harmful pathogens are hiding within patients’ hospital mattresses because of inadequate disinfection practices. Therefore, the threat of infectious disease outbreaks springing up is pretty high.

“We will always be faced with new and re-emerging pathogens,” Lynn Johnston, MD, co-chair of the writing panel and professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Canada said in the press release. “The guidance is part of an ongoing effort to develop tools and strategies to prevent and manage contagious diseases to ensure patient and public safety.”

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