Infectious Disease Surveillance and Response Program (IDSR)

Our mission: 

  • To be a community resource for infectious disease information and education.

  • To track the incidence of infectious disease in Howard County as well as the impact of disease on population health.

  • To implement prevention and control measures in response to changes in reportable disease rates.

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What We Do:


The IDSR Program:


The IDSR Program monitors reports of suspected and known infectious diseases in Howard County. We use this information to prevent and control the spread of disease.

IDSR Team Members:

  • Identify diseases to initiate investigations and implement measures to control spread of disease through outbreak management.

  • Provide guidance to partners such as healthcare professionals, facilities, and other agencies and organizations regarding disease prevention, control and testing.

  • Complete rabies investigations to determine exposure risks and recommend/coordinate post exposure prophylaxis when applicable.

  • Follow up with constituents reporting illness from food establishments to investigate possible causative agent and protect others from getting sick.

How We Do It:



  • The IDSR team partners with our Environmental Health bureau to address concerns regarding suspected human rabies exposures.   

  • Our nurses are trained to evaluate situations and provide guidance regarding Post Exposure Prophylaxis, if necessary, to persons who have been exposed to rabies. 

  • Rabies titer testing is offered for at risk groups. 

  • If you have concerns about a potentially infected animal, please contact Environmental Health at: or


Long term care facilities:

  • The IDSR team schedules visits to Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing facilities providing infectious disease education and guidance as well as information on reporting requirements.   

  • Our goal is to serve as a resource for administrators to prevent and manage on-site illness in these establishments. 



  • The IDSR team utilizes various laboratory surveillance systems to gather data on infectious diseases in our community. 

  • Data collected is used to monitor disease trends and take action to prevent or manage outbreaks and protect the health of community members.

  • Once a lab report is received, follow up for a person who is exposed or infected may include: assessment of symptoms, treatment options, and resources regarding the specific infectious agent. 


Foodborne illness:

  • The IDSR team partners with our Environmental Health bureau regarding foodborne illness complaints. 

  • Interviews are conducted with complainants of foodborne illnesses and resources are provided as needed. 

  • If you have concerns about an establishment, please utilize the link below to contact Environmental Health:


Community outbreaks:

  • The IDSR team partners with impacted facilities in our jurisdiction, providing disease specific guidance and resources for treatment and follow-up care to those impacted. 

  • Increases in disease trends and occurrence that exceed normal expectancy warrant an outbreak investigation. 

  • During outbreak management, we strive to mitigate infectious disease transmission and address questions or concerns about health and safety of Howard County residents.  

What To Expect:


Follow up:


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

We follow HIPAA privacy regulations to provide patients with assurances that their sensitive health data will remain confidential, will be only used for healthcare purposes, will only be shared within health care agencies when necessary.  

This guarantee of confidentiality ensures a foundation of trust exists between you and the Howard County Health Department. 


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Each season, the HCHD will bring you information and resources about seasonally circulating diseases.  


During the fall season we see an increase in respiratory viruses like RSV. 

What is RSV? 

Respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious. Infants and older adults are at a higher risk to develop severe RSV. Severe RSV is accountable for 1,500 hospitalizations, 350 ICU admissions, and more than 30 deaths per year here in Maryland. 

What are symptoms of RSV? 

  • Runny nose 

  • Decrease in appetite 

  • Coughing 

  • Sneezing 

  • Fever 

  • Wheezing 

  • In very young infant’s symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties. 

What do I do if I get RSV?  

Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two. You can take steps to manage symptoms such as managing fever with over-the-counter fever reducers, managing pain with pain relievers and drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking nonprescription medications, as some medications contain ingredients that are not good for children. 

  • If, however, you are in a higher-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider (doctor, physician assistant, etc.). 

How is RSV spread? 

  • When an infected person coughs or sneezes.

  • When virus droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze gets into your eyes, nose or mouth.

  • Direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV.

  • Touching a surface that has the virus on it, then touching your face before washing your hands.

How Can I protect myself and my family from RSV? 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds 

  • Clean frequently touched surfaces with a disinfectant 

  • Avoid close contact with others such as kissing, shaking hands and sharing cups/utensils especially when they exhibit cold-like symptoms 

Is there an RSV vaccine and how can I get it? 

  • RSV vaccination is available with recent approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for adults 60 and older and pregnant individuals at 32–35 weeks gestational age of pregnancy. 

  • If you meet the eligibility criteria for RSV vaccination and are interested, please contact your health care provider for further information. 

For more information, visit: CDC Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV)

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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