Abstract Emerging zoonotic disease outbreaks are inevitable and often unpredictable events. The environment surrounding an outbreak is unique in public health, and outbreaks are frequently marked by uncertainty, confusion and a sense of urgency. Good communication at this time, generally through the media, is essential, but examples unfortunately abound of communication failures that have delayed outbreak control, undermined public trust and compliance, and unnecessarily prolonged economic, social and political turmoil. With this paper we hope to disseminate the idea that communication expertise has become as essential to outbreak control as epidemiological training and laboratory analysis. The paper presents the best practices for communicating with the public and discusses future aspects of communicating through the mass media during an outbreak.