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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Current crisis or artifact of surveillance: insights into rebound chlamydia rates from dynamic modelling

David M Vickers12* and Nathaniel D Osgood23

Author Affiliations

1 Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

2 Computer Science, College of Arts and Science, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7N 5C9, Canada

3 School of Public Health, University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2010, 10:70  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-70

Published: 16 March 2010

Abstract

Background

After initially falling in the face of intensified control efforts, reported rates of sexually transmitted chlamydia in many developed countries are rising. Recent hypotheses for this phenomenon have broadly focused on improved case finding or an increase in the prevalence. Because of many complex interactions behind the spread of infectious diseases, dynamic models of infection transmission are an effective means to guide learning, and assess quantitative conjectures of epidemiological processes. The objective of this paper is to bring a unique and robust perspective to observed chlamydial patterns through analyzing surveillance data with mathematical models of infection transmission.

Methods

This study integrated 25-year testing volume data from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan with one susceptible-infected-treated-susceptible and three susceptible-infected-treated-removed compartmental models. Calibration of model parameters to fit observed 25-year case notification data, after being combined with testing records, placed constraints on model behaviour and allowed for an approximation of chlamydia prevalence to be estimated. Model predictions were compared to observed case notification trends, and extensive sensitivity analyses were performed to confirm the robustness of model results.

Results

Model predictions accurately mirrored historic chlamydial trends including an observed rebound in the mid 1990s. For all models examined, the results repeatedly highlighted that increased testing volumes, rather than changes in the sensitivity and specificity of testing technologies, sexual behaviour, or truncated immunological responses brought about by treatment can, explain the increase in observed chlamydia case notifications.

Conclusions

Our results highlight the significant impact testing volume can have on observed incidence rates, and that simple explanations for these observed increases appear to have been dismissed in favor of changes to the underlying prevalence. These simple methods not only demonstrate geographic portability, but the results reassure the public health effort towards monitoring and controlling chlamydia.