Novel Use of Capture-Recapture Methods to Estimate Completeness of Contact Tracing during an Ebola Outbreak, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2018-2020

Emerg Infect Dis. 2021 Dec;27(12):3063-3072. doi: 10.3201/eid2712.204958.


Despite its critical role in containing outbreaks, the efficacy of contact tracing, measured as the sensitivity of case detection, remains an elusive metric. We estimated the sensitivity of contact tracing by applying unilist capture-recapture methods on data from the 2018-2020 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To compute sensitivity, we applied different distributional assumptions to the zero-truncated count data to estimate the number of unobserved case-patients with any contacts and infected contacts. Geometric distributions were the best-fitting models. Our results indicate that contact tracing efforts identified almost all (n = 792, 99%) of case-patients with any contacts but only half (n = 207, 48%) of case-patients with infected contacts, suggesting that contact tracing efforts performed well at identifying contacts during the listing stage but performed poorly during the contact follow-up stage. We discuss extensions to our work and potential applications for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Keywords: Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ebola; Ebolavirus; capture-recapture; contact tracing; disease outbreaks; viruses; zoonoses.