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Journal Articles JMIR Public Health and Surveillance Year : 2022

Global Variations in Event-Based Surveillance for Disease Outbreak Detection: Time Series Analysis


Background Robust and flexible infectious disease surveillance is crucial for public health. Event-based surveillance (EBS) was developed to allow timely detection of infectious disease outbreaks by using mostly web-based data. Despite its widespread use, EBS has not been evaluated systematically on a global scale in terms of outbreak detection performance. Objective The aim of this study was to assess the variation in the timing and frequency of EBS reports compared to true outbreaks and to identify the determinants of variability by using the example of seasonal influenza epidemic in 24 countries. Methods We obtained influenza-related reports between January 2013 and December 2019 from 2 EBS systems, that is, HealthMap and the World Health Organization Epidemic Intelligence from Open Sources (EIOS), and weekly virological influenza counts for the same period from FluNet as the gold standard. Influenza epidemic periods were detected based on report frequency by using Bayesian change point analysis. Timely sensitivity, that is, outbreak detection within the first 2 weeks before or after an outbreak onset was calculated along with sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and timeliness of detection. Linear regressions were performed to assess the influence of country-specific factors on EBS performance. Results Overall, while monitoring the frequency of EBS reports over 7 years in 24 countries, we detected 175 out of 238 outbreaks (73.5%) but only 22 out of 238 (9.2%) within 2 weeks before or after an outbreak onset; in the best case, while monitoring the frequency of health-related reports, we identified 2 out of 6 outbreaks (33%) within 2 weeks of onset. The positive predictive value varied between 9% and 100% for HealthMap and from 0 to 100% for EIOS, and timeliness of detection ranged from 13% to 94% for HealthMap and from 0% to 92% for EIOS, whereas system specificity was generally high (59%-100%). The number of EBS reports available within a country, the human development index, and the country’s geographical location partially explained the high variability in system performance across countries. Conclusions We documented the global variation of EBS performance and demonstrated that monitoring the report frequency alone in EBS may be insufficient for the timely detection of outbreaks. In particular, in low- and middle-income countries, low data quality and report frequency impair the sensitivity and timeliness of disease surveillance through EBS. Therefore, advances in the development and evaluation and EBS are needed, particularly in low-resource settings.

Dates and versions

hal-03919665 , version 1 (03-01-2023)



Iris Ganser, Rodolphe Thiébaut, David Buckeridge. Global Variations in Event-Based Surveillance for Disease Outbreak Detection: Time Series Analysis. JMIR Public Health and Surveillance, 2022, 8 (10), pp.e36211. ⟨10.2196/36211⟩. ⟨hal-03919665⟩
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