Infectious Disease Surveillance and Response Program (IDSR)

Our mission: 

  • We INFORM and EDUCATE our community about infectious diseases.
  • We TRACK infectious diseases in Howard County, and MONITOR how they impact our population.
  • We PREVENT and CONTROL infectious diseases, responding to reported rates of infection

Infectious diseases are any diseases that can spread from person to person.


IDSR Working image

What We Do:


The IDSR Program:


We keep track of possible and known infectious diseases in Howard County, then use that helpful information to prevent and control the spread of those diseases.

IDSR Team Members:

  • We FIND diseases, LEAD investigations, and WORK with our team and our partners to control the spread of disease. This is called “Outbreak Management.”
  • We GUIDE our partners, including healthcare professionals, healthcare facilities, and other public and private agencies and organizations on how to prevent, control, and test for infectious diseases.
  • We MANAGE rabies investigations, helping to determine exposure risks and recommending and coordinating post-exposure prophylaxis for those who need it.
  • We INVESTIGATE illnesses reported from food establishments, determining the possible cause and protecting others from getting sick.

How We Do It:



  • Our team partners with the Health Department’s Environmental Health bureau when there is a suspected human exposure to rabies.  
  • Our nurses evaluate each situation and offer guidance on how to manage post-exposure prophylaxis, if necessary, to protect those exposed to rabies.
  • We offer rabies titer testing for at-risk groups.

If you have concerns about a potentially infected animal, please contact our Environmental Health bureau first. You can reach them online at or You can also call our Environmental Health bureau at 410-313-2640.


Long term care facilities:

  • Our team visits assisted living and skilled nursing facilities to share infectious disease education and guidance and offer helpful information on reporting requirements. We are a resource for administrators, preventing and managing illness in these establishments.


  • Our team uses lab surveillance systems to gather data on infectious diseases in our community. We keep track of disease trends and take action to prevent or manage outbreaks and protect the health of our community.
  • When we receive a lab report, we follow up for exposures or infections. Follow-up may include learning more about symptoms, a variety of treatment options, or more information about the specific cause of infection.

Foodborne illness:

  • Our team partners with our Environmental Health bureau to manage food-borne illness complaints. We interview those who may have been exposed to food-borne illnesses and offer resources as needed.
  • If you have concerns about a food service establishment, please contact our Environmental Health bureau first. You can reach them online at You can also call our Environmental Health bureau at 410-313-2640. 

Community outbreaks:

  • Our team provides disease-specific guidance and resources for treatment and follow-up care when a group or facility in our region experiences an outbreak of an infectious disease. We also lead outbreak investigations when we find an increase in disease trends and cases. We work to prevent disease transmission and to answer questions and concerns about the health and safety of our Howard County residents.   

What To Expect:


Follow up:

  • If you report an infectious disease, our team may contact you to help us investigate the cause and prevent others from getting sick. We follow HIPAA privacy regulations, and your sensitive health data is kept strictly confidential. Any information that we gather is used only for healthcare purposes, and will only be shared within healthcare agencies as necessary to prevent further spread of disease in our community.
  • We guarantee your confidentiality, and that promise is the foundation of trust between you, the IDSR team, and the entire Howard County Health Department.


IDSR working png

Our IDSR team focuses on how to prevent and protect the public from contagious diseases that are common but sometimes overlooked. On this page we’ll take a look at what you can do to help prevent the spread of these illnesses and what the Health Department does to help protect the community.

Shigellosis – Caused by the Shigella bacteria is an intestinal infection that can cause diarrhea which can be bloody.  Infection occurs when you accidentally swallow shigella bacteria, which can happen if you don’t wash your hands well after using the bathroom while having the infection, after changing a diaper of a child with the infection, if you eat contaminated food or swallow contaminated water (mostly pool water). 

How to prevent Shigella:

  • Wash your hands with soap & water frequently for at least 20 second (the birthday song 2 times)
  • Help small children wash their hands
  • Throw away dirty diapers properly and disinfect diaper changing areas after use
  • If possible, keep children with diarrhea home from childcare, play groups or school
  • Don’t go swimming until you (or a child) have fully recovered

What does HCHD do about Shigella?

  • We monitor lab results and investigate the possible sources of exposure for residents who become sick from Shigella. 
  • For those who work in childcare, healthcare or food service, we may recommend staying home while ill so the illness is not passed to others.

More resources:

Washing hands with soap under water faucet

Diseases of Interest


Reportable Illnesses


Laboratories and Healthcare Providers are required by law to report certain diseases to the local health department. Some diseases are recorded to become a part of the Local, State and National statistics. Other diseases require public health measures, or interventions. These diseases include, but are not limited to:

  • Foodborne illnesses
  • Hepatitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Meningitis
  • Polio
  • Outbreaks

The Howard County Health Department may contact you for information that will assist in the investigation, and help to prevent others from getting sick.

See Maryland's Infectious Disease Bureau or for specific disease information.

Information for Healthcare Providers

Howard County Healthcare Providers who need to submit a reportable illness case to the Health Department should call 410-313-1412. Providers may also email for assistance.


Foodborne Illness


The most common symptoms of food poisoning are diarrhea, stomach pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever. If you have diarrhea or vomiting, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration (not having enough water in your body).

If you are pregnant and experience any food poisoning symptoms, have a fever, and other flu-like symptoms, please see your doctor.  Some mild infections can cause problems with pregnancy.

The five signs of severe food poisoning are*:

  • bloody diarrhea
  • diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days
  • high fever (temperature over 102°F)
  • frequent vomiting (unable to keep any liquids down)
  • signs of dehydration, which include not urinating (peeing) much, a dry mouth and throat, feeling dizzy when standing up.

*Contact a medical provider if you have any of these symptoms.

Additional resources for common Foodborne illnesses:

Food Safety: Bacteria & Viruses

Preventing Foodborne Illness

USDA Safe Food Handling and Preparation 4 Steps to Food Safety

If you believe you have gotten sick as a result of food eaten at a food service facility in Howard County, please contact our Food Protection Program and let us know.




Measles starts with fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes, and sore throat. It’s followed by a rash that spreads over the body. Measles is highly contagious and spreads through coughing and sneezing. Make sure you and your child are protected with measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.



Mosquito-borne Diseases


Everyone—in the United States and around the world—is vulnerable to diseases spread by infected mosquitoes.




Respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory illness that can affect anyone. RSV typically causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can cause serious illness in infants and older adults. RSV typically occurs during the fall and winter months and is the most common cause of inflammation or infection of the lungs in children younger than one year of age. 

People at highest risk for severe disease include

  • Premature infants
  • Young children with congenital (from birth) heart or chronic lung disease
  • Young children with compromised (weakened) immune systems due to a medical condition or medical treatment
  • Children with neuromuscular disorders
  • Adults with compromised immune systems
  • Older adults, especially those with underlying heart or lung disease



Lyme Disease is a bacteria transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected Blacklegged tick (or deer tick). Symptoms may include headache, fever, and the characteristic "bulls-eye" skin rash (erythema migrans). If not treated, the infection can spread to joints, heart and nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (like the rash) and the possibility of exposure to ticks.


Seasonal Flu


The Health Department encourages people of all ages to get a seasonal flu shot from a healthcare provider, local pharmacy, retailer or big box store. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school (even virtual school) due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.


Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)


Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is caused by one of several types of viruses, commonly caused by coxsackievirus A16. It is common in children under 5 years old, but anyone can get it. This mostly occurs in summer and fall. 

HFMD is contagious. Someone is most contagious during the first week when they are sick and the virus is found is their nose and throat secretions, fluid from blisters and feces. 

People can get HFMD when they come into contact with droplets that contain the virus, touching an infected person, touching an infected person’s poop (such as changing diapers) then touching your eyes, nose or mouth and touching objects and surfaces that have the virus on them. 

Symptoms of HFMD are fever and flu-like symptoms, mouth sores and skin rash on palms of the hands and soles of the feet. 

You can help to prevent and control the spread of HFMD by: 

  • Washing hands, especially after going to the bathroom, changing diapers and/or handling diapers or other stool‑soiled material. 

  • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. 

  • Washing toys and other surfaces that may have saliva on them. 

  • Keeping your child home from childcare or school settings if the child has a fever, uncontrollable “hand to mouth” behavior, not able to contain secretions, or child has draining sores that cannot be covered. 

For more information: 

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