Harrison County Health Department

Bethany, Missouri

Communicable Disease

Communicable disease surveillance is a multi-component system that monitors and analyzes data that includes – but is not limited to – demographic, geographic, and disease/condition-specific information. Accurate identification and timely reporting are integral parts of successful disease control, enabling public health agencies to:

  • identify contacts who may be infected or other individuals at risk for infection,
  • determine the incidence and prevalence of disease in a specific area of the state,
  • assist physicians and hospitals in evaluating illnesses in their patients and communities, and
  • assist the public in making better decisions regarding their health and lifestyle.

Successful communicable disease surveillance enhances control efforts; such as developing prevention/intervention strategies and policies, and responding to events involving potential exposure to communicable disease.

Missouri has the authority to define conditions of public health importance, also known as State Reportable Diseases/Conditions. Potential (suspect) cases of disease are reported from hospitals, laboratories, and healthcare providers to local, regional, or state public health agencies in a process known as “reporting”.  Reporting can be based on a positive laboratory test, clinical symptoms, or epidemiologic criteria (called Reporting Criteria).  

A public health investigation is sometimes conducted to determine and implement appropriate public health interventions.  Each state has its own list of State Reportable Diseases/Conditions (printer friendly version of list) detailing disease and events necessary to report.

Why report communicable diseases/conditions? The reporting, investigation, and surveillance of communicable diseases/conditions is linked to the Core Public Health Function of Assessment and to the Essential Public Health Services 

#1 - Monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems and 

#2 - Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community.  The public health system depends upon reports of diseases to monitor the health of the community and to provide the basis for preventive action. 

Prompt reporting by mandated reporters such as physicians, laboratory scientists, and other health care professionals of both diagnosed and suspected communicable diseases, allows for timely action by local and state public health personnel.  

This teamwork makes possible important benefits, as listed below, for individual patients and the community. 

1. To identify outbreaks and epidemics. If an unusual number of cases occur, local health authorities will investigate and implement measures to control the spread of the disease. 

2. To enable preventive treatment and/or education to be provided.  

3. To help target prevention programs, identify needs, and efficiently use scarce resources.  

4. To evaluate the success of long term prevention and control efforts.