Toward unsupervised outbreak detection through visual perception of new patterns

Lévy, Pierre P.; Valleron, Alain-Jacques
January 2009
BMC Public Health;2009, Vol. 9, p1
Academic Journal
Background: Statistical algorithms are routinely used to detect outbreaks of well-defined syndromes, such as influenza-like illness. These methods cannot be applied to the detection of emerging diseases for which no preexisting information is available. This paper presents a method aimed at facilitating the detection of outbreaks, when there is no a priori knowledge of the clinical presentation of cases. Methods: The method uses a visual representation of the symptoms and diseases coded during a patient consultation according to the International Classification of Primary Care 2nd version (ICPC-2). The surveillance data are transformed into color-coded cells, ranging from white to red, reflecting the increasing frequency of observed signs. They are placed in a graphic reference frame mimicking body anatomy. Simple visual observation of color-change patterns over time, concerning a single code or a combination of codes, enables detection in the setting of interest. Results: The method is demonstrated through retrospective analyses of two data sets: description of the patients referred to the hospital by their general practitioners (GPs) participating in the French Sentinel Network and description of patients directly consulting at a hospital emergency department (HED). Informative image color-change alert patterns emerged in both cases: the health consequences of the August 2003 heat wave were visualized with GPs' data (but passed unnoticed with conventional surveillance systems), and the flu epidemics, which are routinely detected by standard statistical techniques, were recognized visually with HED data. Conclusion: Using human visual pattern-recognition capacities to detect the onset of unexpected health events implies a convenient image representation of epidemiological surveillance and welltrained "epidemiology watchers". Once these two conditions are met, one could imagine that the epidemiology watchers could signal epidemiological alerts, based on "image walls" presenting the local, regional and/or national surveillance patterns, with specialized field epidemiologists assigned to validate the signals detected.


Related Articles

  • FLU SEASON MOST SEVERE IN 4 YEARS.  // Clinical Infectious Diseases;6/1/2004, Vol. 38 Issue 11, p4 

    This article focuses on the present situation of epidemics in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that this season's influenza epidemic in the United States was the most severe in 4 years, largely because of the predominance of a more virulent strain....

  • A rough flu season has CDC taking stock of supplies. Margolis, Kyle // AHA News;12/15/2003, Vol. 39 Issue 25, p2 

    Reports on the outbreak of influenza across the U.S. in November 2003. States affected by the outbreak; Number of cases reported by hospitals; Effort of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address the problem.

  • Confronting Potential Influenza A (H5N1) Pandemic with Better Vaccines. Haque, Azizul; Hober, Didier; Kasper, Lloyd H. // Emerging Infectious Diseases;Oct2007, Vol. 13 Issue 10, p1512 

    Influenza A (H5N1) viruses are strong candidates for causing the next influenza pandemic if they acquire the ability for efficient human-to-human transmission. A major public health goal is to make efficacious vaccines against these viruses by using novel approaches, including cell-culture...

  • Avian Flu Pandemic.  // Background Information Summaries;1/2/2011, p3 

    This article reports on a strain of influenza A named H5N1, carried by wild birds and thus popularly called avian (or bird) flu, which has raised concerns of a world pandemic that could result in millions of deaths. Public health experts are especially worried that a mutation of the virus could...

  • Avian H5N1 Influenza--Are We Inching Closer to a Global Pandemic? Sampathkumar, Priya; Maki, Dennis G. // Mayo Clinic Proceedings;Dec2005, Vol. 80 Issue 12, p1552 

    The article examines the threat posed by avian influenza. What concerns public health officials about the avian influenza is the documented transmission of a virulent virus to humans. The virus resulted in respiratory illness in 18 adults, 6 of whom died. The outbreak expanded into other...

  • An easy approach to the Robins-Breslow-Greenland variance estimator. Silcocks, Paul // Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations;2005, Vol. 2, p9 

    The Mantel-Haenszel estimate for the odds ratio (and its logarithm) in stratified case control studies lacked a generally acceptable variance estimate for many years. The Robins-Breslow-Greenland estimate has met this need, but standard textbooks still do not provide an explanation of how it is...

  • Arctic Rabies -- A Review. Mørk, Torill; Prestrud, Pål // Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica;2004, Vol. 45, p1 

    Rabies seems to persist throughout most arctic regions, and the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland, is the only part of the Arctic where rabies has not been diagnosed in recent time. The arctic fox is the main host, and the same arctic virus variant seems to infect the arctic fox...

  • Invited Commentary: The Epicenter of Translational Science. Hiatt, Robert A. // American Journal of Epidemiology;Sep2010, Vol. 172 Issue 5, p525 

    Epidemiology is at the center of translational science. Uniquely among biomedical disciplines, the methods and perspective of epidemiology span research from discovery to effective interventions and ultimately to their dissemination and implementation. However, shorthand designations for various...

  • Cholera in Ecuador: Current Relevance of Past Lessons Learnt. Malavade, S. S.; Narvaez, A.; Mitra, A.; Ochoa, T.; Naik, E.; Sharma, M.; Galwankar, S.; Breglia, M. D.; Izurieta, R. // Journal of Global Infectious Diseases;Apr2011, Vol. 3 Issue 2, p189 

    This report analyses the trends in the cholera epidemic that hit Ecuador in 1991. The study is based on personal experiences and analysis of epidemiological databases from the Ministry of Public Health of Ecuador. The number of cases and initial attack rates in an immunologically naïve...


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics