Communicable Diseases

Introduction

A communicable disease is an infectious agent causing illness spread between people, from animals to people (or vice-versa), animal to animal, or from the environment to people.

Symptoms of infectious (communicable) diseases will depend on the infectious organism.  General symptoms include; fever, swollen lymph glands, night sweats and rigors (shaking episodes associated with fever).

There are legal requirements to register certain diseases, these are called ‘Notifiable Diseases’.  Examples include Tuberculosis (TB), Measles and Meningitis.

Responsibility for work relating to the prevention of communicable disease lies with the Health Protection Agency.  This includes infectious disease surveillance, providing specialist and reference microbiology and microbial epidemiology, co-coordinating the investigation and cause of national and uncommon outbreaks, helping advise government on the risks posed by various infections and responding to international health alerts.

The Agency combines public health and scientific knowledge, research and emergency planning within one organisation – and works at international, national, regional and local levels.  It also supports and advises other organisations that play a part in protecting health.

The Agency’s advice, information and services are underpinned by evidence-based research.  It also uses its research to develop new vaccines and treatments that directly help patients.  Although set up by government, the Agency is independent and provides whatever advice and information is necessary to protect people’s health.

What are the big issues?

Worldwide infectious diseases are the largest cause of death – the biggest killers are pneumonia, infective diarrhoea, TB, HIV and malaria.  Developing countries are the most heavily hit.  In Warwickshire infectious disease is not the ‘big killer’ as it is in the developing world but it still has a significant effect on quality of life.

The four big communicable disease issues within Warwickshire are:

  • Vaccine preventable diseases
  • Gastrointestinal infections
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Other childhood infections

Immunisation is the most effective method for preventing infectious disease and maintaining the public health of the population.  In NHS Warwickshire the aim is to achieve:

  • 95% or greater uptake for all child health vaccines used within the UK national childhood immunisation programme.
  • 75% or greater uptake for the adult seasonal influenza programme.
  • 100% uptake of Hepatitis B vaccination for ‘at risk’ babies.
  • Maintenance of targeted BCG programme.

Death from communicable disease in the West Midlands is rare.  Although pneumonia was reported in 4.5% of patients as their cause of death in 2008.  However, this represents more complicated issues for patients with multiple general health problems.

Health care associated infectious, i.e. those infections caused by medical interventions are frequently reported in the news and can be particularly resistant to treatment.  The most commonly recognised are MRSA and Clostridium difficile infection.

Minimising risk of contracting, and of reducing the spread of infectious gastrointestinal disease can be achieved through appropriate personal hygiene, household cleaning, food hygiene, exclusion from work/school where necessary, ensuring appropriate precautions are taken on farm visits (particularly for E Coli, and Cryptosporidium).  Details regarding these hygiene recommendations can be found in the following guidelines (PHLS Advisory Committee, 2004) as well as in the fact sheets for the individual diseases.

There are several practical toolkit resources for professionals working with a sexual health remit with young people and other high-risk groups, on the Department of Health website:

Who needs to know?

  • 5 x District and Borough Councils
  • Acute Trusts
  • General Practices
  • NHS Warwickshire
  • Warwickshire County Council

Further information