The investigation of alleged clusters of non-communicable disease, often prompted by public concern, requires thorough planning and careful implementation.
These guidelines provide a systematic approach to the investigation of clusters of non-communicable disease. Public health units (PHUs) can follow this approach to carry out an organised and coordinated response to reports of alleged clusters.
Investigation involves four distinct stages. Each successive stage involves collecting more specific data and requires a stronger verification of those data. However, a PHU may choose to combine stages, depending on local judgement, experience and the available resources. A decision as to whether to proceed with further investigation is made at the end of each stage.
Dealing with the concerns of the public and media is fundamental to investigating clusters. The public often feel threatened about the occurrence of alleged clusters and demand action and information from the health professionals involved in an investigation. Skilled risk communication, understanding of risk perception and effective handling of inquiries from the public and the media are crucial to the success of a cluster investigation.