Study objective: A key public health question is whether syndromic surveillance data provide early warning of infectious outbreaks. One cause for skepticism is that biological correlates of the administrative and clinical data used in these systems have not been rigorously assessed. This study measures the value of respiratory data currently used in syndromic surveillance systems to detect respiratory infections by comparing it against criterion standard viral testing within a pediatric population.
Methods: We conducted a longitudinal study with prospective validation in the emergency department (ED) of a tertiary care children's hospital. Children aged 7 years or younger who presented with a respiratory syndrome or who were tested for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, or enterovirus between January 1993 and June 2004 were included. We assessed the predictive ability of the viral tests by fitting generalized linear models to respiratory syndrome counts.
Results: Of 582,635 patient visits, 89,432 (15.4%) were for respiratory syndromes, and of these, 7,206 (8.1%) patients were tested for the viruses of interest. RSV was significantly related to respiratory syndrome counts (adjusted rate ratio [RR] 1.33; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.04 to 1.71). In multivariate models including all viruses tested, influenza virus was also a significant predictor of respiratory syndrome counts (RR 1.47; 95% CI 1.03 to 2.10). This model accounted for 81.6% of the observed variability in respiratory syndrome counts.
Conclusion: Respiratory syndromic surveillance data strongly correlate with virologic test results in a pediatric population, providing evidence of the biologic validity of such surveillance systems. Real-time outbreak detection systems relying on syndromic data may be an important adjunct to the current set of public health systems for the detection and surveillance of respiratory infections.