E-mail-based symptomatic surveillance combined with self-collection of nasal swabs: a new tool for acute respiratory infection epidemiology

Int J Infect Dis. 2011 Nov;15(11):e799-803. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2011.07.005. Epub 2011 Aug 17.


Objective: We examined the feasibility of combining communication by e-mail and self-collection of nasal swabs for the prospective detection of acute respiratory infections in a non-medical setting.

Methods: The study was conducted among a convenience sample of employees (n=53) at a research institution (December 2009-April 2010). Real-time data on the occurrence of acute respiratory symptoms and a nasal self-swab were collected prospectively, with automated weekly e-mails as a reminder mechanism. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was used to detect respiratory viral pathogens in the swabs.

Results: Fifty-one out of 53 participants completed the study. The study design was well accepted. Thirty (∼57%) participants reported at least one episode of acute respiratory infection and returned the nasal swab during the study period (eight participants reported two episodes). The majority had no difficulties taking the self-swab and preferred this to swabbing by study personnel. Most participants obtained and returned the swabs within the recommended time. Viral respiratory pathogens were detected in 19 of 38 swabs (50%), with coronaviruses 229E/NL63 and OC43 and rhinoviruses A and B constituting 17 positive swabs (89%).

Conclusions: Combining e-mail-based symptomatic surveillance with nasal self-swabbing promises to be a powerful tool for the real-time identification of incident cases of acute respiratory infections and the associated pathogens in population-based studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Data Collection
  • Electronic Mail
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasal Cavity / virology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology*
  • Self Care
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Specimen Handling / methods*
  • Viruses / classification
  • Viruses / isolation & purification*