Skip to Main Content

Public Health

Vetted resources and information on current public health events.

What are Public Health Emergencies?

A public health emergency (also called a public health crisis) is a complex or difficult situation that affects health systems in one or more geographic areas or from a single locality that has spread globally. It can result from disease (Covid-19, HIV/AIDS), natural disaster (earthquakes, extreme weather), industry (oil spills, lead paint), or policy (housing, war).

Many different governing bodies can declare public health emergencies, at the global level, national level, state level, and even local jurisdictions (such as New York City). These emergency declarations allow for certain bureaucratic processes to be modified or bypassed in order to provide necessary support to respond to the emergency.


Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE)

CSTE approval followed the adoption of revised IHR in May 2005 by the World Health Assembly (2) that went into effect in the United States on July 18, 2007. This international legal instrument governs the role of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its member countries, including the United States, in identifying, responding to, and sharing information about events that might constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). A PHEIC is an extraordinary event that constitutes a public health risk to other countries through international spread of disease and potentially requires a coordinated international response. All WHO member countries are required to notify WHO of a potential PHEIC. WHO makes the final determination about the existence of a PHEIC.

Events that May Constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern

World Health Organization (WHO)

Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) is a formal designation by the WHO of "an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response" that is declared in response to a "serious, sudden, unusual, or unexpected", which "carries implications for public health beyond the affected state's national border" and "may require immediate international action."

Since 2009 there are been seven (7) PHEIC declarations:
  1. the 2009 H1N1 ("Swine Flu") Influenza Pandemic
  2. the 2014-ongoing Polio declaration
  3. the 2014-2016 Western Africa Ebola epidemic
  4. the 2015-2016 Zika Virus epidemic
  5. the 2018-2020 Kivu Ebola epidemic
  6. the 2020-2023 COVID-19 pandemic
  7. the 2022-ongoing Monkeypox epidemic


Public Health Emergency Declaration 

The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may, under section 319 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, determine that: a) a disease or disorder presents a public health emergency (PHE); or b) that a public health emergency, including significant outbreaks of infectious disease or bioterrorist attacks, otherwise exists.

Duration and Notification: The declaration lasts for the duration of the emergency or 90 days, but may be extended by the Secretary. Congress must be notified of the declaration within 48 hours, and relevant agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, must be kept informed.