Conducting Interviews

Interviews are often the most important and extensive source of information for determining the source of an outbreak. An epidemiological field investigation should include interviews with outbreak survivors, families of outbreak victims, local physicians, and public health officials involved in the epidemic and in heath care measures to contain the outbreak. The team must acquire the names and addresses of all outbreak victims and obtain permission to interview their families. As the investigation continues, investigators may need to interview the same sources multiple times to obtain accurate and revealing information. Therefore, it is critical that investigation guidelines permit multiple interviews.

Structured interviewing techniques (refined questionnaires) should be used to expedite the process and to obtain consistent results. If the questionnaire requires the respondent to recall distant events, incorporation of memory aids can be invaluable. Personal interviews can incorporate pictures, three-dimensional models, maps, calendars, or timelines to assist respondents with accurate reporting. Personal interviews are labor-intensive and expensive. Telephone interviews typically yield shorter answers, and respondents may tend to favor the first answer when a list of possible answers is read to them, but other differences between telephone and personal interviews are, surprisingly, modest55. In a biological terrorism event, cooperation in a telephone interview may be complicated by fear, as respondents tend to be more suspicious of the interviewer or the legitimacy of the study when face-to-face contact is lacking.

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