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Open Access Research article

Surveillance of febrile patients in a district and evaluation of their spatiotemporal associations: a pilot study

Kin-wing Choi1, Ngai-sze Wong2, Lap-yip Lee3 and Shui-shan Lee2*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital, Tai Po, Hong Kong

2 Stanley Ho Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases, School of Public Health and Primary Care, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

3 Accident and Emergency Department, Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital, Tai Po, Hong Kong

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2010, 10:84  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-84

Published: 20 February 2010

Abstract

Background

Fever is an undifferentiated clinical feature that may enhance the sensitivity of syndromic surveillance systems. By studying the spatiotemporal associations of febrile patients, it may allow early detection of case clustering that indicates imminent threat of infectious disease outbreaks in the community.

Methods

We captured consecutive emergency department visits that led to hospitalization in a district hospital in Hong Kong during the period of 12 Sep 2005 to 14 Oct 2005. We recorded demographic data, provisional diagnoses, temperature on presentation and residential location for each patient-episode, and geocoded the residential addresses. We applied Geographical Information System technology to study the geographical distribution these cases, and their associations within a 50-m buffer zone spatially. A case cluster was defined by three or more spatially associated febrile patients within each three consecutive days.

Results

One thousand and sixty six patient-episodes were eligible for analysis; 42% of them had fever (>37°C; oral temperature) on presentation. Two hundred and four patient-episodes (19.1%) came from residential care homes for elderly (RCHE). We detected a total of 40 case clusters during the study period. Clustered cases were of older age; 57 (33.3%) were residents of RCHE. We found a median of 3 patients (range: 3 - 8) and time span of 3 days (range: 2 - 8 days) in each cluster. Twenty five clusters had 2 or more patients living in the same building block; 18 of them were from RCHE.

Conclusions

It is technically feasible to perform surveillance on febrile patients and studying their spatiotemporal associations. The information is potentially useful for early detection of impending infectious disease threats.