Suggested citation for this article: Mann P, O’Connell E, Zhang G, Llau A, Rico E, Lequen FC. Alert system to detect possible school-based outbreaks of influenza-like illness. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011 Feb; [Epub ahead of print]
Alert System to Detect Possible School-based Outbreaks of Influenza-like Illness
Pamela Mann, Erin O’Connell, Guoyan Zhang, Anthoni Llau, Edhelene Rico, and Fermin C. Leguen
Author affiliations: Florida Department of Health, Miami, Florida, USA (P. Mann); and Miami-Dade County Health Department, Miami (E. O’Connell, G. Zhang, A. Llau, E. Rico, F.C. Leguen)
To evaluate the usefulness of school absentee data in identifying outbreaks as part of syndromic surveillance, we examined data collected from public schools in Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA. An innovative automated alert system captured information about school-specific absenteeism to detect and provide real-time notification of possible outbreaks of influenza-like illness.
Information about school absenteeism is commonly used as part of syndromic surveillance for detecting disease outbreaks in the United States. For example, health officials from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene evaluated school absentee percentage data for 2001–02 and identified moderate increases in influenza-associated absenteeism (1). However, absence is not always related to illness; thus, understanding why students miss school can be difficult because specific reasons are not usually recorded (2).
The Miami-Dade County Health Department (MDCHD) is Florida’s largest county health department and serves the Miami metropolitan area of ≈2.5 million persons. Approximately 350,000 students are enrolled in 436 schools in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system (MDCPS), which includes public, charter, vocational, and alternative schools. Each school is required to enter students’ attendance information daily into an MDCPS database, the Automated