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Communicable Diseases

Bacteria, viruses and fungi in the environment can cause disease and illness in people.

In some instances, large outbreaks can occur if many people are affected in a short period of time. 

While the BCCDC specializes in investigating and controlling instances of disease, regional health authorities manage outbreaks that affect areas within their jurisdiction. 

At the BCCDC, Public Health Emergency Management (PHEM) is often involved when an outbreak threatens public health in multiple health authorities, or if the event requires complex coordination in order to be managed effectively.


Examples of communicable diseases include:


  • Vector borne diseases, which are transmitted by insect and animal bites. Examples include West Nile, Lyme disease and Rabies.
  • Food and water borne diseases, such as E-coli, Salmonella, and Giardia are mostly spread through the consumption of contaminated water or food.
  • Human-to-human diseases, including measles, mumps, rhinovirus (common cold), sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis and influenza, may be spread through exposure or contact with bodily fluids.
  • New or emerging infectious diseases such as SARS or H1N1, are new to a population or may be previously-known viruses or bacteria that have changed over time.


BCCDC roles

In the event of an outbreak, BCCDC responds in several ways. 


The public health system is constantly monitoring and assessing instances of disease in the population. Additionally, public health experts continually monitor the emergence of significant diseases in countries and regions around the world, through a variety of information sharing networks. Constant vigilance is required to maintain a healthy population. 


Some diseases are deemed "reportable" under the Public Health Act in BC. Doctors and other healthcare workers must report to their local Medical Health Officer if they see a person with these conditions. This process is in place so that public health interventions can quickly be taken to prevent others from getting the disease. Measures may include immunization or taking medications to prevent illness. 


BCCDC works with health authorities to systematically investigate the cause, spread and impact of a disease, and to implement strategies to contain it. 


If a health authority is overwhelmed, if multiple health authorities are impacted or if requested by the Provincial Health Officer, the BCCDC can take a greater leadership role in coordinating response to the event. 

While the BCCDC may provide direction, support and leadership, the responsibility for implementing outbreak management strategies still resides with the regional health authorities.

Influenza pandemic


An outbreak or epidemic refers to the local or regional spread of an illness while a pandemic refers to worldwide spread.  The most pandemic-prone organism is the influenza virus. There have been four influenza pandemics in the last 100 years, including the most recent one in 2009, which was caused by the H1N1 influenza virus.

For influenza to become a pandemic:

  • the virus must be new or novel in some way
  • the virus must cause severe illness or morbidity
  • the virus must transmit easily between humans 
  • there must be no natural immunity or readily available vaccine. 

Depending on the nature and severity of a pandemic, public health strategies will include, at a minimum:

  • promoting hand hygiene and environmental cleaning
  • anti-viral and vaccine uptake (to increase "herd immunity")
  • encouraging social distancing.  

In some cases more aggressive measures  (such as school closures) may be required,.  

Whatever the strategy, public health professionals are always careful to balance the health and safety of the public with the rights of individuals.

BC pandemic planning guide

Influenza pandemics represent global emergencies with catastrophic impact. 

During a pandemic, worldwide epidemics of influenza due to a new viral subtype occur simultaneously and with high death rates. 

Pandemics occur every 10 to 40 years. During the last century alone, three occurred. The worst was between 1918 and 1919 when over 20 million people died. 

When the next pandemic occurs – and it will – no time can be lost in responding. We must work together now to develop efficient and effective interventions. 

This BC planning guide is intended to help all of us anticipate, prepare and respond to the effects of the next pandemic. (The planning templates can be utilized in managing other respiratory disease outbreaks.)

Influenza Pandemic Planning page (BC Ministry fo Health)

Pandemic planning & the BCCDC

The BCCDC plays a key role in pandemic planning in BC, and participates in a number of key national committees relating to public health and pandemic influenza. Through these collaborative activities, the BCCDC has helped to develop provincial and national plans and guidance on public health measures, vaccines, antivirals and usage of protective equipment.

Interacting with the public increases your chances of getting the flu but does not make it inevitable. Prepare for the flu season by educating yourself, your family and your employees about influenza and taking simple precautions.

Plan ahead 

Planning for a pandemic is essential. A pandemic may seriously affect your business and workers’ health. Being informed and knowing what to do during a flu pandemic will help minimize its impact on your operations. 

Review your plan on an annual basis and make certain it is up to date. Incorporate new developments from previous flu seasons and revise your plan accordingly. 

Hand hygiene  

Having adequate hand washing supplies in the washrooms, kitchens and other sink areas in your home or office is critical. Businesses may also consider providing additional hand hygiene stations in highly visible locations, particularly where people tend to gather, such as entrances and water coolers.

Environmental cleaning  

Influenza viruses can survive on some surfaces from a period of several hours to days, but are rapidly destroyed by cleaning. Cleaning of frequently touched objects and surfaces will help to prevent the transmission of the virus from person to person through contaminated hands. It is recommended that businesses and community organizations increase the frequency of cleaning of frequently touched surfaces to at least twice daily and ensure that adequate hand hygiene supplies are available at all times.

Frequently touched objects and surfaces include:

  • doorknobs
  • hand rails
  • faucet handles
  • work surfaces
  • computer keyboards
  • telephones

No special disinfectants or waste handling practices are required for influenza; regular household or commercially available cleaning products are sufficient for this purpose and waste handling according to usual standards is adequate.  Dishes, clothing, and sheets used by an individual with influenza, or an 'influenza-like-illness (ILI)' can be washed using ordinary detergent and water. 

When to wear a mask

The Public Health Agency of Canada does not recommend that healthy people wear masks as they go about their daily lives in the community. There is no evidence to suggest that wearing masks will prevent the spread of infection in the general population and improper use of masks may actually increase the risk of infection, as removing the mask incorrectly can spread the virus to one’s hands and face.

Government information

For more information, see the Government of Canada Flu (Influenza) web page. 

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