Recombinant temporal aberration detection algorithms for enhanced biosurveillance

J Am Med Inform Assoc. Jan-Feb 2008;15(1):77-86. doi: 10.1197/jamia.M2587. Epub 2007 Oct 18.


Objective: Broadly, this research aims to improve the outbreak detection performance and, therefore, the cost effectiveness of automated syndromic surveillance systems by building novel, recombinant temporal aberration detection algorithms from components of previously developed detectors.

Methods: This study decomposes existing temporal aberration detection algorithms into two sequential stages and investigates the individual impact of each stage on outbreak detection performance. The data forecasting stage (Stage 1) generates predictions of time series values a certain number of time steps in the future based on historical data. The anomaly measure stage (Stage 2) compares features of this prediction to corresponding features of the actual time series to compute a statistical anomaly measure. A Monte Carlo simulation procedure is then used to examine the recombinant algorithms' ability to detect synthetic aberrations injected into authentic syndromic time series.

Results: New methods obtained with procedural components of published, sometimes widely used, algorithms were compared to the known methods using authentic datasets with plausible stochastic injected signals. Performance improvements were found for some of the recombinant methods, and these improvements were consistent over a range of data types, outbreak types, and outbreak sizes. For gradual outbreaks, the WEWD MovAvg7+WEWD Z-Score recombinant algorithm performed best; for sudden outbreaks, the HW+WEWD Z-Score performed best.

Conclusion: This decomposition was found not only to yield valuable insight into the effects of the aberration detection algorithms but also to produce novel combinations of data forecasters and anomaly measures with enhanced detection performance.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Bioterrorism / prevention & control
  • Communicable Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Epidemiologic Measurements
  • Humans
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Public Health Informatics / methods*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Time