Data From Novel Influenza Surveillance Systems Can Complement Traditional Healthcare-Based Systems

Influenza causes an estimated 3,000 to 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. Timely and representative data can help local, state, and national public health officials monitor and respond to outbreaks of seasonal influenza. Data from cloud-based electronic health records (EHR) and crowd-sourced influenza surveillance systems have the potential to provide complementary, near real-time estimates of influenza activity. Baltrusaitis, et al. (2018) sought to compare two novel influenza-tracking systems with three traditional healthcare-based influenza surveillance systems at four spatial resolutions: national, regional, state, and city, and to determine the minimum number of participants in these systems required to produce influenza activity estimates that resemble the historical trends recorded by traditional surveillance systems.

The researchers compared influenza activity estimates from five influenza surveillance systems: 1) patient visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) from the U.S. Outpatient ILI Surveillance Network (ILINet), 2) virologic data from World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating and National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS) Laboratories, 3) Emergency Department (ED) syndromic surveillance from Boston, Massachusetts, 4) patient visits for ILI from EHR, and 5) reports of ILI from the crowd-sourced system, Flu Near You (FNY), by calculating correlations between these systems across four influenza seasons, 2012–16, at four different spatial resolutions in the US. For the crowd-sourced system, we also used a bootstrapping statistical approach to estimate the minimum number of reports necessary to produce a meaningful signal at a given spatial resolution.

In general, as the spatial resolution increased, correlation values between all influenza surveillance systems decreased. Influenza-like Illness rates in geographic areas with more than 250 crowd-sourced participants or with more than 20,000 visit counts for EHR tracked government-lead estimates of influenza activity.

The researchers conclude that with a sufficient number of reports, data from novel influenza surveillance systems can complement traditional healthcare-based systems at multiple spatial resolutions.

Reference: Baltrusaitis K, Brownstein JS, et al. Comparison of crowd-sourced, electronic health records based, and traditional healthcare-based influenza-tracking systems at multiple spatial resolutions in the United States of America. BMC Infectious Diseases. 2018;18:403