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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Estimating the under-reporting of norovirus illness in Germany utilizing enhanced awareness of diarrhoea during a large outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O104:H4 in 2011 – a time series analysis

Helen Bernard1*, Dirk Werber1 and Michael Höhle12

Author Affiliations

1 Department for Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Robert Koch Institute, Seestraße 10, 13353 Berlin, Germany

2 Department of Mathematics, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm Sweden

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:116  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-116

Published: 1 March 2014



Laboratory-confirmed norovirus illness is reportable in Germany since 2001. Reported case numbers are known to be undercounts, and a valid estimate of the actual incidence in Germany does not exist. An increase of reported norovirus illness was observed simultaneously to a large outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O104:H4 in Germany in 2011 – likely due to enhanced (but not complete) awareness of diarrhoea at that time. We aimed at estimating age- and sex-specific factors of that excess, which should be interpretable as (minimal) under-reporting factors of norovirus illness in Germany.


We used national reporting data on laboratory-confirmed norovirus illness in Germany from calendar week 31 in 2003 through calendar week 30 in 2012. A negative binomial time series regression model was used to describe the weekly counts in 8∙2 age-sex strata while adjusting for secular trend and seasonality. Overall as well as age- and sex-specific factors for the excess were estimated by including additional terms (either an O104:H4 outbreak period indicator or a triple interaction term between outbreak period, age and sex) in the model.


We estimated the overall under-reporting factor to be 1.76 (95% CI 1.28-2.41) for the first three weeks of the outbreak before the outbreak vehicle was publicly communicated. Highest under-reporting factors were here estimated for 20–29 year-old males (2.88, 95% CI 2.01-4.11) and females (2.67, 95% CI 1.87-3.79). Under-reporting was substantially lower in persons aged <10 years and 70 years or older.


These are the first estimates of (minimal) under-reporting factors for norovirus illness in Germany. They provide a starting point for a more detailed investigation of the relationship between actual incidence and reporting incidence of norovirus illness in Germany.

Norovirus; Gastroenteritis; Epidemiology; Disease notification; Time series analysis; Public health; Population surveillance; Under-reporting