Evaluating and implementing temporal, spatial, and spatio-temporal methods for outbreak detection in a local syndromic surveillance system

PLoS One. 2017 Sep 8;12(9):e0184419. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184419. eCollection 2017.


The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has operated an emergency department syndromic surveillance system since 2001, using temporal and spatial scan statistics run on a daily basis for cluster detection. Since the system was originally implemented, a number of new methods have been proposed for use in cluster detection. We evaluated six temporal and four spatial/spatio-temporal detection methods using syndromic surveillance data spiked with simulated injections. The algorithms were compared on several metrics, including sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, coherence, and timeliness. We also evaluated each method's implementation, programming time, run time, and the ease of use. Among the temporal methods, at a set specificity of 95%, a Holt-Winters exponential smoother performed the best, detecting 19% of the simulated injects across all shapes and sizes, followed by an autoregressive moving average model (16%), a generalized linear model (15%), a modified version of the Early Aberration Reporting System's C2 algorithm (13%), a temporal scan statistic (11%), and a cumulative sum control chart (<2%). Of the spatial/spatio-temporal methods we tested, a spatial scan statistic detected 3% of all injects, a Bayes regression found 2%, and a generalized linear mixed model and a space-time permutation scan statistic detected none at a specificity of 95%. Positive predictive value was low (<7%) for all methods. Overall, the detection methods we tested did not perform well in identifying the temporal and spatial clusters of cases in the inject dataset. The spatial scan statistic, our current method for spatial cluster detection, performed slightly better than the other tested methods across different inject magnitudes and types. Furthermore, we found the scan statistics, as applied in the SaTScan software package, to be the easiest to program and implement for daily data analysis.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Datasets as Topic
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • New York City
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • ROC Curve
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis
  • Syndrome

Grant support

The funder of this project is the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (http://www.sloan.org/). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.