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Ahead of Print -Quantifying Reporting Timeliness to Improve Outbreak Control - Volume 21, Number 2—February 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

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Ahead of Print -Quantifying Reporting Timeliness to Improve Outbreak Control - Volume 21, Number 2—February 2015 - Emerging Infectious Disease journal - CDC

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Volume 21, Number 2—February 2015


Quantifying Reporting Timeliness to Improve Outbreak Control

Axel Bonačić MarinovićComments to Author , Corien Swaan, Jim van Steenbergen, and Mirjam Kretzschmar
Author affiliations: National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, the Netherlands (A. Bonačić Marinović, C. Swaan, J. van Steenbergen, M. Kretzschmar)University Medical Centre Utrecht, Utrecht, the Netherlands (A. Bonačić Marinović, M. Kretzschmar)Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, the Netherlands (J. van Steenbergen)


The extent to which reporting delays should be reduced to gain substantial improvement in outbreak control is unclear. We developed a model to quantitatively assess reporting timeliness. Using reporting speed data for 6 infectious diseases in the notification system in the Netherlands, we calculated the proportion of infections produced by index and secondary cases until the index case is reported. We assumed interventions that immediately stop transmission. Reporting delays render useful only those interventions that stop transmission from index and secondary cases. We found that current reporting delays are adequate for hepatitis A and B control. However, reporting delays should be reduced by a few days to improve measles and mumps control, by at least 10 days to improve shigellosis control, and by at least 5 weeks to substantially improve pertussis control. Our method provides quantitative insight into the required reporting delay reductions needed to achieve outbreak control and other transmission prevention goals.
Thumbnail of Timeline for chain of disease reporting, the Netherlands. Lab, laboratory; PHA, public health authority.
Figure 1. Timeline for chain of disease reporting, the Netherlands. Lab, laboratory; PHA, public health authority.
Timely reporting of infectious disease cases enables public health authorities (PHAs) to take effective action to prevent outbreaks by reducing disease transmission in a population. Therefore, many countries have notification systems for reporting infectious diseases to local PHAs. However, delays in the chain of reporting are inevitable.Figure 1 shows a schematic notification chain with its various delay links. The causes and durations of these links have diverse origins that must be individually analyzed to find possible ways of reducing them but only if reducing the total reporting delay (DOR in Figure 1) proves worthwhile. Although any reduction of reporting delay provides individual benefit, aiming for overall reduction of the reporting delay makes sense at population level only if a given goal for improving outbreak control can be achieved. Therefore, the question arises as to whether PHAs should spend time, money, and effort to achieve effective improvement of the total reporting delay.
Previous studies have found that for most diseases, the reporting delays are too long to prevent directly infected contacts from spreading the disease (13). Few studies have taken into account the full-time distribution of events in the reporting chain (4,5), and there has been no quantitative assessment of the effect of reporting delays on outbreak control. Moreover, assessing reporting timeliness by considering only time delay does not enable a comparison among different diseases because they generally develop along different time lines.
In this article, we show how to quantify reporting timeliness for outbreak control by calculating the proportion of infections expected to be caused by index cases and by their corresponding secondary cases (6) until the moment the index case is reported to a PHA. This approach enables not only quantitative assessment of the effect of reporting delay reduction for a particular disease but also comparison of reporting timeliness among different diseases. Our models take into account reporting delay distributions, generation (serial) interval distributions, and distributions of symptom-onset period. We used notification data for 6 infectious diseases reported to the Netherlands notification system to evaluate the current reporting timeliness and reporting delay reductions needed to substantially affect outbreak control. The effect of a reporting delay on new infections acquired from an index case (and subsequent secondary cases) indicates to public health officials the potential value of attempting to reduce the total reporting delay and the extent to which it may need to be done.


For evaluation of reporting timeliness, we selected 6 notifiable diseases that are transmitted person to person and for which sufficient data on total reporting delays (DOR) are available in the notification system used in the Netherlands (OSIRIS): hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis, and shigellosis. For 5 of those diseases, we obtained data for day of symptom onset and day of reporting to the PHA for all cases reported from July 2003 through December 2011. The other disease, mumps, was notifiable in the Netherlands until 1999, when it was dropped from the notifiable list because of a decreased number of cases. However, after a resurgence in the number of cases in 2008, mumps was reintroduced as a notifiable disease in OSIRIS in 2009. Therefore, no mumps data were available during 1999–2008. We included mumps in our analysis because of its high incidence even though control measures are limited, similar to the situation with pertussis. To model the reporting delay for each disease, we fitted analytical log-normal distributions to the OSIRIS data. We also used log-normal distributions that fit serial interval and time-to-symptom onset ranges found in the literature (Table 1).
The course of infection for each disease has its own characteristic time scale (latent, infectious, and symptomatic periods). Thus, a 1-week delay might have a substantial effect on control of a slowly progressing disease such as hepatitis A but not on a rapidly progressing disease such as shigellosis. Moreover, reporting itself also has its own time scale because of various factors behind each link in the reporting chain. Therefore, for timeliness of case reporting to be assessed and compared for various diseases, timeliness needs to be evaluated in terms of the number of infections that could not be prevented because of the delay, rather than in terms of the actual time taken to report cases.
When a case is reported, regional PHAs implement mostly case-based interventions. These interventions are intended to prevent transmission from the reported case and from secondary cases that may have been acquired from the index case. Secondary cases are identified by contact tracing. For this reason, for each disease we first calculated the proportion of expected infections produced by an index case (PIR1) until the moment the index case in question is reported to the local PHA. We then calculated the proportion of expected infections produced by each secondary case produced by a reported index case (PIR2) until the moment the index case in question is reported to the local PHA. Throughout this study we refer to an index case as any case that is reported because of a positive diagnosis and a case that has not yet been traced as a secondary case when reported (i.e., all primary cases that may result in clusters). For every calculation, we considered the hypothetical intervention in which contact tracing and stopping of transmission occur instantly when the index case is reported. Such a rapid response is not realistic, but the estimate provides an upper limit for outbreak control potential as determined by reporting speed. The calculations were performed by using scripts written in Python programming language (https://www.python.org). Below is an introductory explanation of our calculations; further details and explicit formulas are provided in the Technical Appendix[PDF - 279 KB - 4 pages]).

Thumbnail of Schematic modification of PIR2. A) Generation interval time distributions of index and secondary cases, from the moment of exposure of the notified index case. PIR2 is represented by the area under the second generation interval distribution, which is 1 in the absence of notification/intervention. B) PIR1 and PIR2 values when index cases are notified and stopped together with their secondary cases, according to a time distribution. C) How PIR values in panel B are modified by 40% un
Figure 3. Schematic modification of PIR2. A) Generation interval time distributions of index and secondary cases, from the moment of exposure of the notified index case. PIR2 is represented by the area under...
Dr Bonačić Marinović works as a researcher at the Centre for Infectious Disease Control Netherlands, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, and the Julius Centre for Health Sciences & Primary Care, University Medical Centre Utrecht. His main research interests involve modeling infectious diseases from a practical public health perspective and serology.


We thank Eline Smits for her support in searching infectious disease parameters in the literature, Peter Teunis for useful discussions, and Laura Nic Lochlainn for language proofreading.


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Technical Appendix

Suggested citation for this article: Bonačić Marinović A, Swaan C, van Steenbergen J, Kretzschmar M. Quantifying reporting timeliness to improve outbreak control. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 Feb [date cited]. http://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2102.13-0504
DOI: 10.3201/eid2102.130504

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