Adapting Syndromic Surveillance Baselines After Public Health Interventions

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Background: Public health surveillance requires historical baselines to identify unusual activity. However, these baselines require adjustment after public health interventions. We describe an example of such an adjustment after the introduction of rotavirus vaccine in England in July 2013. Methods: We retrospectively measured the magnitude of differences between baselines and observed counts (residuals) before and after the introduction of a public health intervention, the introduction of a rotavirus vaccine in July 2013. We considered gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and vomiting to be indicators for national syndromic surveillance, including telephone calls to a telehealth system, emergency department visits, and unscheduled consultations with general practitioners. The start of the preintervention period varied depending on the availability of surveillance data: June 2005 for telehealth, November 2009 for emergency departments, and July 2010 for general practitioner data. The postintervention period was July 2013 to the second quarter of 2016. We then determined whether baselines incorporating a step-change reduction or a change in seasonality resulted in more accurate models of activity. Results: Residuals in the unadjusted baseline models increased by 42%-198% from preintervention to postintervention. Increases in residuals for vomiting indicators were 19%-44% higher than for diarrhea. Both step-change and seasonality adjustments improved the surveillance models; we found the greatest reduction in residuals in seasonally adjusted models (4%-75%). Conclusion: Our results demonstrated the importance of adjusting surveillance baselines after public health interventions, particularly accounting for changes in seasonality. Adjusted baselines produced more representative expected values than did unadjusted baselines, resulting in fewer false alarms and a greater likelihood of detecting public health threats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-745
Number of pages9
JournalPublic Health Reports
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020

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© 2020, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.


  • epidemiology
  • infectious disease
  • public health


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