Human disease

Infectious diseases are caused by organisms such as bacteria, fungi, parasites or viruses. These can be spread to humans by:

  • other humans - eg coughing and sneezing, blood and bodily fluids
  • the environment, including food and water
  • animals and insects.

SA Health is the primary agency in South Australia responsible for responding to severe infectious disease outbreaks, such as a flu pandemic or food poisoning.


Disease outbreaks can be associated with high rates of serious illness and death.

In recent times Australia has been affected by:

  • numerous serious incidents involving food products causing food poisoning
  • pandemic influenza A (H1N1) or human swine flu
  • novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) originating in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.

During severe disease outbreaks, people with symptoms can be isolated to prevent the disease from spreading. These outbreaks can lead to:

  • uncertainty, fear, and anxiety
  • the breakdown of community support networks
  • the closing of businesses and schools
  • restrictions on travel
  • major economic disruption.

Disease prevention

There are a number of things that you can do to help avoid spreading or catching an infectious disease.


Immunisation can prevent infectious diseases like the flu and measles.

Contact your doctor or phone SA Health on 1300 232 272.

Immunisation - Australian Government Department of Health

Immunisation and vaccinations - healthdirect

Immunisation services - SA Health

Personal hygiene

You can reduce the risk of getting sick or passing infections on to others by following these simple rules:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Wipe down surfaces.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.

Hand washing - healthdirect

Personal hygiene - healthdirect

Food safety

Food poisoning occurs through the consumption of disease-causing germs, or their toxins, present in:

  • raw or under-cooked meat or poultry
  • raw or lightly cooked seafood
  • raw milk
  • food contaminated with fecal matter
  • foods contaminated by infected food handlers
  • untreated contaminated water.

Proper food preparation and storage will help prevent food-related illnesses.

Food safety - healthdirect

Food safety in an emergency - SA Health

Handling and preparing food

When you handle and prepare food:

  • wash your hands before preparing food, and between handling raw food and ready-to-eat food
  • wash raw fruit and vegetables well before eating
  • thoroughly cook all food of animal origin, including eggs
  • washboards and knives in warm soapy water between handling cooked and raw food
  • defrost food by placing it on the lower shelves of the fridge or using a microwave.

Storing food

When you store food:

  • keep it covered
  • allow cooked food to cool slightly before putting it in the fridge
  • put raw meat, poultry,and seafood below cooked or ready-to-eat food in the fridge to prevent drips that could contaminate pre-prepared food
  • use refrigerated food before use-by dates
  • keep your fridge clean.

Food temperatures

  • The fridge temperature should be below 5°C.
  • Keep hot food hot (above 60°C) and cold food cold (at or below 5°C).
  • Reheat food until the internal temperature of the food is piping hot.
  • Before eating microwaved food, make sure it reaches an even temperature so there are no hot spots.

Insect bites

Insects including mosquitoes, flies, sandflies, and fleas pass on infectious diseases to humans through insect bites.

Infectious diseases caused by insects include dengue fever, malaria, Ross River fever, and the Zika virus disease.

It's important to avoid mosquito bites at all times. Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Avoid outdoor exposure to mosquitoes from dusk and the first few hours after dark.
  • Wear protective long, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing when outdoors.
  • Use a personal repellent containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin.
  • Install insect screens on doors and windows of homes, and on enclosed outdoor recreational areas.
  • Use mosquito nets and mosquito-proof tents if camping or living outdoors.
  • Make sure children are protected with suitable clothing, bed nets or other forms of insect screening.

Fight the bite - SA Health

Insect bites and stings - healthdirect

Mosquito-borne diseases - healthdirect

Reducing health risks in disasters

Educational materials and resources from SA Health to help you prevent Injury and illness after a disaster:

Disaster and mental health support

Staying safe and healthy during and after a flood

Bushfires and your health

Flu pandemic

Flu pandemics are often caused by new influenza viruses, to which there is low immunity among large populations. They have the potential to cause high levels of disease and death.

Seasonal and pandemic flu

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a viral infection, spread through the air by droplets that can cause fever, runny nose, sore throat, and muscle pain or fatigue. It is highly infectious.

Seasonal flu occurs every year, typically in the autumn and winter. Most people recover from seasonal flu in a week or so because they:

  • are healthy
  • are already partly protected by having a similar virus before
  • have annual flu shots.

Pandemic flu is different from seasonal flu:

  • it is a new form of flu virus
  • people have low immunity
  • it can affect anyone
  • it can spread easily from person to person
  • it can lead to a worldwide outbreak.

Recent flu pandemic outbreaks include pandemic influenza A (H1NI) or human swine flu, and the H5N1 strain of avian influenza or bird flu.

Seasonal flu symptoms, treatment and prevention - SA Health

Plan for a flu pandemic

To learn about the possible impacts of flu pandemic, the NSW Health website has frequently asked questions and seasonal influenza information.

Discuss with your family how you would cope during a flu pandemic.

Identify key people you could turn to for help and other people who might need your help.

Keep a list of phone numbers for emergency health services, and your family so that you can keep in touch.

During a flu pandemic

If a flu pandemic is confirmed you should plan ahead, in case services are disrupted. This is especially important if someone in your family has special needs due to a physical or mental disability.

See if you can work from home.

Plan home learning activities, in case, schools are closed.

Store extra water, food, and supplies.

Stay as healthy as you can by getting adequate rest, managing stress, eating right, and continuing to exercise.

If you get sick

If you have flu-like symptoms - fever, cough, and fatigue - stay away from work or school and avoid public places. You can get medical advice from:

It is possible that community flu clinics will be set up if there is a major outbreak. Once established, the locations will be listed on the SA Health website.

For life-threatening situations call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Stay up to date

If there is an outbreak you'll be able to get updates from the Australian Government Department of Health.


Visit your doctor or travel health centre at least eight weeks prior to travelling overseas. The doctor will check if you'll need any vaccinations or medications to reduce your risk of infectious diseases for your travel destinations.

For more information visit:

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    Page last updated 2 March 2023

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