HealthStats NSW
HealthStats NSW
HealthStats NSW
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  • + Background: Communicable diseases

    Definition and burden of disease in Australia

    Bacteria, viruses or parasites infect humans as a result of contact with other infected humans, animals or the environment. Certain communicable diseases are of high priority for health departments around the world, because they are highly infectious, can result in serious illness or death, or can be prevented by immunisation or other actions.

    Only in the last 200 years or so has the germ theory and the importance of some of the most important yet basic public health measures, such as availability of running water and hand-washing, been recognised. The development of immunisation, first against smallpox, and later for a growing number of other diseases including diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, and measles, led to massive declines in morbidity and mortality associated with these conditions.

    The potential for serious outbreaks and emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases continue to present a challenge in public health and require planning and constant vigilance. Each year, over 200,000 individual notifications of communicable diseases are reported in Australia. These trigger a considerable amount of public health action so that cases are treated, the spread of disease is limited, the source of infection is removed or minimised and outbreaks are controlled or prevented.  

    Public Health Act 2010

    Under the Public Health Act 2010 (and previously under the Public Health Act 1991), laboratories, hospitals, medical practitioners, schools and child care centres must notify NSW Health of diagnoses of certain diseases. For some diseases a notification triggers a public health response by the public health unit, such as immunisation or prophylactic treatment of contacts. Notifications also provide valuable information that is used for planning and evaluation of prevention programs.

    The number of notifications received for any particular condition is almost always an underestimate of the number of cases that actually occur. For a condition to be notified a patient must seek medical help, be diagnosed with the condition, in some cases must have the appropriate laboratory tests done and then the diagnosis must be reported to NSW Health. Nonetheless, communicable disease notifications provide valuable information on disease patterns in NSW.


    Public Health Act 2010. Available at: