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      Enhancing spatial detection accuracy for syndromic surveillance with street level incidence data

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          The Department of Defense Military Health System operates a syndromic surveillance system that monitors medical records at more than 450 non-combat Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) worldwide. The Electronic Surveillance System for Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE) uses both temporal and spatial algorithms to detect disease outbreaks. This study focuses on spatial detection and attempts to improve the effectiveness of the ESSENCE implementation of the spatial scan statistic by increasing the spatial resolution of incidence data from zip codes to street address level.


          Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) was used as a test syndrome to develop methods to improve the spatial accuracy of detected alerts. Simulated incident clusters of various sizes were superimposed on real ILI incidents from the 2008/2009 influenza season. Clusters were detected using the spatial scan statistic and their displacement from simulated loci was measured. Detected cluster size distributions were also evaluated for compliance with simulated cluster sizes.


          Relative to the ESSENCE zip code based method, clusters detected using street level incidents were displaced on average 65% less for 2 and 5 mile radius clusters and 31% less for 10 mile radius clusters. Detected cluster size distributions for the street address method were quasi normal and sizes tended to slightly exceed simulated radii. ESSENCE methods yielded fragmented distributions and had high rates of zero radius and oversized clusters.


          Spatial detection accuracy improved notably with regard to both location and size when incidents were geocoded to street addresses rather than zip code centroids. Since street address geocoding success rates were only 73.5%, zip codes were still used for more than one quarter of ILI cases. Thus, further advances in spatial detection accuracy are dependant on systematic improvements in the collection of individual address information.

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          Most cited references 9

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          Geographically masking health data to preserve confidentiality.

          The conventional approach to preserving the confidentiality of health records aggregates all records within a geographical area that has a population large enough to ensure prevention of disclosure. Though this approach normally protects the privacy of individuals, the use of such aggregated data limits the types of research one can conduct and makes it impossible to address many important health problems. In this paper we discuss the design and implementation of geographical masks that not only preserve the security of individual health records, but also support the investigation of questions that can be answered only with some knowledge about the location of health events. We describe several alternative methods of masking individual-level data, evaluate their performance, and discuss both the degree to which we can analyse masked data validly as well as the relative security of each approach, should anyone attempt to recover the identity of an individual from the masked data. We conclude that the geographical masks we describe, when appropriately used, protect the confidentiality of health records while permitting many important geographically-based analyses, but that further research is needed to determine how the power of tests for clustering or the strength of other associative relationships are adversely affected by the characteristics of different masks.
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            The bioterrorism preparedness and response Early Aberration Reporting System (EARS).

            Data from public health surveillance systems can provide meaningful measures of population risks for disease, disability, and death. Analysis and evaluation of these surveillance data help public health practitioners react to important health events in a timely manner both locally and nationally. Aberration detection methods allow the rapid assessment of changes in frequencies and rates of different health outcomes and the characterization of unusual trends or clusters. The Early Aberration Reporting System (EARS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows the analysis of public health surveillance data using available aberration detection methods. The primary purpose of EARS is to provide national, state, and local health departments with several alternative aberration detection methods. EARS helps assist local and state health officials to focus limited resources on appropriate activities during epidemiological investigations of important public health events. Finally, EARS allows end users to select validated aberration detection methods and modify sensitivity and specificity thresholds to values considered to be of public health importance by local and state health departments.
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              Positional error in automated geocoding of residential addresses

              Background Public health applications using geographic information system (GIS) technology are steadily increasing. Many of these rely on the ability to locate where people live with respect to areas of exposure from environmental contaminants. Automated geocoding is a method used to assign geographic coordinates to an individual based on their street address. This method often relies on street centerline files as a geographic reference. Such a process introduces positional error in the geocoded point. Our study evaluated the positional error caused during automated geocoding of residential addresses and how this error varies between population densities. We also evaluated an alternative method of geocoding using residential property parcel data. Results Positional error was determined for 3,000 residential addresses using the distance between each geocoded point and its true location as determined with aerial imagery. Error was found to increase as population density decreased. In rural areas of an upstate New York study area, 95 percent of the addresses geocoded to within 2,872 m of their true location. Suburban areas revealed less error where 95 percent of the addresses geocoded to within 421 m. Urban areas demonstrated the least error where 95 percent of the addresses geocoded to within 152 m of their true location. As an alternative to using street centerline files for geocoding, we used residential property parcel points to locate the addresses. In the rural areas, 95 percent of the parcel points were within 195 m of the true location. In suburban areas, this distance was 39 m while in urban areas 95 percent of the parcel points were within 21 m of the true location. Conclusion Researchers need to determine if the level of error caused by a chosen method of geocoding may affect the results of their project. As an alternative method, property data can be used for geocoding addresses if the error caused by traditional methods is found to be unacceptable.

                Author and article information

                Int J Health Geogr
                International Journal of Health Geographics
                BioMed Central
                18 January 2010
                : 9
                : 1
                [1 ]Planned Systems International, Inc, 5201 Leesburg Pike, Suite 1100, Falls Church, VA, 22041, USA
                [2 ]Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, 2900 Linden Lane, Suite 200, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA
                [3 ]Department of Geography and Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, Saunders Hall, Campus Box 3220, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599, USA
                [4 ]Department of Health Systems Administration, Georgetown University, 3700 Reservoir Rd, Washington DC 20007, USA
                Copyright ©2010 Savory et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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