This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the 2007 Disease Surveillance Workshop. Disease Surveillance: Role of Public Health Informatics

Open Access Proceedings

Statistical analyses in disease surveillance systems

Andres G Lescano12*, Ria Purwita Larasati3, Endang R Sedyaningsih4, Khanthong Bounlu5, Roger V Araujo-Castillo1, Cesar V Munayco-Escate6, Giselle Soto1, C Cecilia Mundaca1 and David L Blazes1

Author Affiliations

1 US Naval Medical Research Center Detachment (NMRCD), Lima, Peru

2 Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru

3 US Naval Medical Research Unit #2 (NAMRU-2), Jakarta, Indonesia

4 National Institute of Health Research and Development, Jakarta, Indonesia

5 National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Ministry of Public Health, Vientiane, Lao PDR

6 General Directorate of Epidemiology, Ministry of Public Health, Lima, Peru

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BMC Proceedings 2008, 2(Suppl 3):S7  doi:

Published: 14 November 2008


The performance of disease surveillance systems is evaluated and monitored using a diverse set of statistical analyses throughout each stage of surveillance implementation. An overview of their main elements is presented, with a specific emphasis on syndromic surveillance directed to outbreak detection in resource-limited settings. Statistical analyses are proposed for three implementation stages: planning, early implementation, and consolidation. Data sources and collection procedures are described for each analysis.

During the planning and pilot stages, we propose to estimate the average data collection, data entry and data distribution time. This information can be collected by surveillance systems themselves or through specially designed surveys. During the initial implementation stage, epidemiologists should study the completeness and timeliness of the reporting, and describe thoroughly the population surveyed and the epidemiology of the health events recorded. Additional data collection processes or external data streams are often necessary to assess reporting completeness and other indicators. Once data collection processes are operating in a timely and stable manner, analyses of surveillance data should expand to establish baseline rates and detect aberrations. External investigations can be used to evaluate whether abnormally increased case frequency corresponds to a true outbreak, and thereby establish the sensitivity and specificity of aberration detection algorithms.

Statistical methods for disease surveillance have focused mainly on the performance of outbreak detection algorithms without sufficient attention to the data quality and representativeness, two factors that are especially important in developing countries. It is important to assess data quality at each state of implementation using a diverse mix of data sources and analytical methods. Careful, close monitoring of selected indicators is needed to evaluate whether systems are reaching their proposed goals at each stage.