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Disease Outbreaks

Disease Outbreaks

When more people get sick from a particular disease than what would normally be expected, it's called a disease outbreak. Disease outbreaks are caused by bacteria, viruses or other organisms such as parasites. They can happen when people consume contaminated food or water, when a contagious disease is spread from person to person, or from the bite of an infected insect like a mosquito that causes West Nile Virus disease. Disease outbreaks can also occur naturally, like with the flu, or they can be caused by humans, either intentionally or by accident. The State of Michigan has a website focused on emerging infectious disease issues that may affect humans or animals at

How to Stay Healthy

If there is a disease outbreak in your area, staying healthy means taking some common sense precautions to avoid exposure to what is causing the outbreak.

Preventing foodborne illness:

Always follow good food storage and preparation technique. Learn how to keep the different kinds of foods in your house safe and prevent food poisoning by visiting

Know what to do with food in a power outage. If there is a power outage, food will only be preserved for 4 hours at most if the refrigerator door remains closed. Freezer items will be safe for approximately 48 hours if the freezer is full and the door remains closed. Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40° F for two hours or more. With frozen food, check for ice crystals! The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40° F or below.

Be mindful of food recalls. You can visit the Michigan Department of Agriculture's Food Recalls webpage to view recent food recalls, and sign up for alerts to be sent to your email address or mobile phone.

Preventing waterborne illness:

Never drink water that you suspect is contaminated.  If the local health department in your area has issued a boil water advisory after a storm, flood or water main break, follow their instructions on what to do and how to make your water safe for drinking.   For more information on safe water after a disaster, visit the flood page on this website.

Preventing a contagious disease:

Contagious diseases are spread through various forms of contact.  If there is an outbreak in your area, it is important to understand how that disease is spread, and to follow the recommendations of your family physician and local health department.  

For vaccine-preventable diseases, the best way to prevent getting sick is to make sure that you and your family are up-to-date on your vaccinations and boosters.   Learn more about immunizations in Michigan from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Seasonal Influenza is a common contagious respiratory disease that affects millions of people around the globe every year.  In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5-20% of the U.S. population comes down with the flu, and 200,000 people are hospitalized each year.  To keep yourself and your family healthy, make sure to:

  • Get a flu shot every year.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water, thoroughly and frequently.
  • Carry and use hand sanitizer when you do not have access to soap and water.
  • Cover your sneezes and coughs.
  • To prevent the spread of the flu, stay home if you are ill.  Encourage your friends, family members and co-workers to do the same.

A different kind of flu is called Pandemic Influenza. Unlike seasonal influenza, pandemic flu does not happen every year. In fact, the last flu pandemics occurred in 2009 (Influenza A H1N1), 1968 (Hong Kong Flu), 1957 (Asian Flu), and 1918 (Spanish Flu). Pandemics are different from seasonal influenza in that they are typically much more severe. This is because the virus that causes pandemic flu is a new to humans. This means that we do not have much, if any, immunity to the virus. More people can become very ill, and because of the ease of world travel, it has the potential to spread around the world very rapidly - in as little as a few days!

Creating a vaccine for a new flu virus takes much longer than it does for the virus to spread.  Scientists can't make a vaccine that will prevent pandemic flu until the virus appears, can be studied, and a vaccine can be prepared. This process can take up to 6 months.

How You Can Prepare for Pandemic Influenza

Planning for the possibility of being sick may seem unusual, but getting sick can affect many other aspects of your life. Business owners should think about how to keep their business open if most of their staff are sick and can't come to work. Parents should think about how they are going to make it to work if their kids get sick, or if the schools close because too many teachers and students are ill. All of us should think about how we will get by if many of the stores we count on for supplies do not have enough workers to open. As you think about these questions, utilize the preparedness checklists and emergency planning information from this website to help you get started.

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