Surveillance & Epidemiology

The Gloucester County Department of Health conducts daily investigations of state mandated diseases and influenza like illness reports from various providers and schools.  Healthcare providers play a critical role in protecting the public from communicable diseases.  Through early detection and swift public health response disease transmission can be mitigated.  The following information provides healthcare practitioners with vital information about reportable diseases in Gloucester County. 

Whom do I notify?

All immediately reportable diseases should be reported to the Gloucester County Department of Health at 856-218-4102.  To reach a public health official in the evening or weekend call the Gloucester County Communications center at (856) 589-0911

If the patient does not live in Gloucester County the report should be called in to their local health department or NJDHSS at 609-826-5964 during regular business hours, and 609-392-2020 on nights, weekends, and holidays.

For diseases that must be reported within 24 hours of diagnosis, call the Gloucester County Department of Health or fax a report to: (856) 218-4145.

What should I tell my patients who have reportable diseases?

For communicable disease control efforts to be maximally effective, health care providers should take time to advise their patients about the legal requirement of disease reporting, what the patient can expect to happen, and how the community may benefit.

Patients who are surprised when they receive a phone call from the local health department about their illness may be less than fully cooperative with the health department, and are often unhappy that their health care provider didn’t advise them that they might receive a call from someone at the health department.

Instead of viewing this as a referral for health care follow-up, patients may view it as a breach of confidentiality because they weren’t provided the opportunity to understand what is happening and why.

What is a reportable communicable disease?

A “reportable communicable disease” refers to any disease listed in New Jersey Administrative Code (N.J.A.C.) Title 8, Chapter 57. (Link to N.J.A.C www.lexisnexis.com/njoal)

Per these regulations, it is the responsibility of health care providers to notify the local health department where the patient resides.

A quick reference for Communicable Diseases reportable in Domestic Companion Animals is available for veterinarians as a PDF at
www.state.nj.us/health/cd/documents/veterinary_magnet.pdf

How and why were these diseases selected?

The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) received recommendations from several national organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. NJDHSS also solicited input from New Jersey organizations and interest groups, such as the Medical Society of New Jersey and the New Jersey Hospital Association.

These diseases were selected because actions must be taken to stop further spread of the diseases OR information is needed to evaluate whether existing control measures are working.

Certain diseases must be reported IMMEDIATELY by phone, even if the diagnosis is based only on clinical suspicion. With these diseases there is NO TIME TO WAIT FOR LABORATORY CONFIRMATION. Because preventing the spread of these diseases is so important, the good judgment of the health care provider is enough to initiate a public health response.

Other diseases must be reported within 24 hours of diagnosis. Supporting laboratory work is desirable, but for some diseases, a report based solely upon clinical judgment is acceptable.

Of note, ALL OUTBREAKS (suspect or confirmed) must be reported IMMEDIATELY by phone.

Why is it important for health care providers to report diseases in a timely manner?

 The earlier illnesses are reported, the faster public health authorities can act. This allows public health officials to conduct timely investigations and enact prevention and control measures quickly. Such measures may include embargoes of food products, prophylaxis of patient contacts, and closure of public swimming places.

What information must be in the report?

In addition to the name of the disease and the name of the patient, the regulations also require the reporting of the patient’s address and telephone number; the patient’s age or birth date, race, sex, and ethnicity; date of illness onset; results of laboratory tests that support the diagnosis; and, in the case of sexually transmitted diseases, any treatment provided.

Communicable Disease Reporting Forms (CDS-1) can be found at: http://web.doh.state.nj.us/apps2/forms/

Does HIPAA allow disease reporting?

The HIPAA Privacy Rule permits covered entities (i.e., health care providers, laboratories, and hospitals) to disclose protected health information, without authorization, to public health authorities who are legally authorized to receive such reports for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury, or disability. Examples of public health authorities include the state and local health departments in NJ, and the CDC.

Link to HIPAA Privacy Rule and Public Health: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/m2e411a1.htm

What do health departments do with this information?

Health departments use the reports in a variety of ways. First and foremost, the reports are used to trigger prompt implementation of disease control and prevention measures. When reports are compiled and analyzed, they may provide public health authorities with important information about a disease, including trends, risk factors, and whether existing disease prevention activities are working.

Why do I have to report when the laboratory has already reported the case?

For immediately reportable diseases, the answer is simple. The health care provider will be the first person to make the diagnosis or be the first health care professional to suspect that the illness is occurring. For the remaining reportable diseases, the health care provider often has clinical information that the laboratory doesn’t have –information that often is critical for public health authorities to perform their duties in a timely and efficient fashion.

What is expected from a health care provider during a disease investigation?

Health care providers may be contacted by the local health department and asked to provide clinical or diagnostic information regarding a patient. They also may be asked to collect additional clinical specimens to confirm the diagnosis of cases and to participate in prevention activities, including administering vaccines and prophylactic antibiotics.