Control selection methods in recent case–control studies conducted as part of infectious disease outbreaks

Alison Waldram*, Caoimhe McKerr, Maya Gobin, Goutam Adak, James M. Stuart, Paul Cleary

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Successful investigation of national outbreaks of communicable disease relies on rapid identification of the source. Case–control methodologies are commonly used to achieve this. We assessed control selection methods used in recently published case–control studies for methodological and resource issues to determine if a standard approach could be identified. Neighbourhood controls were the most frequently used method in 53 studies of a range of different sizes, infections and settings. The most commonly used method of data collection was face to face interview. Control selection issues were identified in four areas: method of identification of controls, appropriateness of controls, ease of recruitment of controls, and resource requirements. Potential biases arising from the method of control selection were identified in half of the studies assessed. There is a need to develop new ways of selecting controls in a rapid, random and representative manner to improve the accuracy and timeliness of epidemiological investigations and maximise the effectiveness of public health interventions. Innovative methods such as prior recruitment of controls could improve timeliness and representativeness of control selection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-471
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Her Majesty the Queen as represented by Public Health England.


  • Case–control studies
  • Control selection
  • Outbreaks


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