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Control of acute communicable disease incidents demands rapid risk assessment, often with minimal peer-reviewed literature available but conducted in the public's view. This paper explores how methods of evidence-based medicine (EBM) can be applied in this scenario to improve decision making and risk communication. A working group with members from EBM organisations, public health institutions and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control used a six-stage framework for rapid risk assessments: preparation, risk detection/verification, risk assessment, development of advice, implementation, and evaluation. It concluded that data from observational studies, surveillance and modelling play a vital role in the evidence base. However, there is a need to further develop protocols and standards, to perform, report and register outbreak investigations more systematically and rigorously, and to allow rapid retrieval of the evidence in emergencies. Lack of evidence for risk assessment and advice (usual for new and emerging diseases) should be made explicit to policy makers and the public. Priorities are to improve templates for reporting and assessing the quality of case and outbreak reports, apply grading systems to evidence generated from field investigations, improve retrieval systems for incident reports internationally, and assess how to communicate uncertainties of scientific evidence more explicitly. .


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