Investigation of outbreaks complicated by universal exposure

Alma Tostmann*, Teun Bousema, Isabel Oliver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Outbreaks in which most or all persons were exposed to the same suspected source of infection, so-called universal exposure, are common. They represent a challenge for public health specialists because conducting analytical studies in such investigations is complicated by the absence of a nonexposed group. We describe different strategies that can support investigations of outbreaks with universal exposure. The value of descriptive epidemiology, extensive environmental investigation, and the hypothesis-generation phase cannot be overemphasized. An exposure that seems universal may in fact not be universal when additional aspects of the exposure are taken into account. Each exposure has unique characteristics that may not be captured when investigators rely on the tools readily at hand, such as standard questionnaires. We therefore encourage field epidemiologists to be creative and consider the use of alternative data sources or original techniques in their investigations of outbreaks with universal exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1717-1722
Number of pages6
JournalEmerging Infectious Diseases
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

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Copyright 2013 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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