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1.  Global travel patterns and risk of measles in Ontario and Quebec, Canada: 2007–2011 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2015;15:341.
In 2011 the largest measles outbreak in North America in a decade occurred in Quebec, Canada with over 700 cases. In contrast, measles activity in neighbouring province Ontario remained low (8 cases). Our objective was to determine the extent to which the difference could be explained by differing travel patterns.
We explored the relationship between measles cases over 2007–2011, by importation classification, in Quebec and Ontario in relation to global travel patterns to each province using an ecological approach. Global measles exposure was estimated by multiplying the monthly traveler volume for each country of origin into Quebec or Ontario by the yearly measles incidence rate for the corresponding country. Visual inspection of temporal figures and calculation of Pearson correlation coefficients were performed.
Global measles exposure was similar in Ontario and Quebec. In Quebec, there was a nearly perfectly linear relationship between annual measles cases and its global measles exposure index over 2007–2011 (r = 0.99, p = 0.001). In contrast, there was a non-significant association in Ontario. The 2011 rise in Quebec’s index was largely driven by a dramatic increase in measles activity in France the same year.
Global measles activity was associated with measles epidemiology in Quebec. Global measles exposure risk is higher in Ontario than Quebec. Differences in measles epidemiology between Ontario and Quebec from 2007–2011 are not explained by greater exposure in Quebec. A combination of alternative factors may be responsible, including differences in population susceptibility.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12879-015-1039-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4539886  PMID: 26282392
Epidemiology; Measles; Outbreaks; Surveillance; Travel; Vaccine-preventable diseases
2.  Correlation of Real Time PCR Cycle Threshold Cut-Off with Bordetella pertussis Clinical Severity 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(7):e0133209.
Bordetella pertussis testing performed using real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is interpreted based on a cycle threshold (Ct) value. At Public Health Ontario Laboratories (PHOL), a Ct value <36 is reported as positive, and Ct values ≥36 and <40 are reported as indeterminate. PHOL reported indeterminate results to physicians and public health units until May 2012, after which these results were only reported to physicians. We investigated the association between Ct value and disease symptom and severity to examine the significance of indeterminate results clinically, epidemiologically and for public health reporting. B. pertussis positive and indeterminate RT-PCR results were linked to pertussis cases reported in the provincial Integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS), using deterministic linkage. Patients with positive RT-PCR results had a lower median age of 10.8 years compared to 12.0 years for patients with indeterminate results (p = 0.24). Hospitalized patients had significantly lower Ct values than non-hospitalized patients (median Ct values of 20.7 vs. 31.6, p<0.001). The proportion of patients reporting the most indicative symptoms of pertussis did not differ between patients with positive vs. indeterminate RT-PCR results. Taking the most indicative symptoms of pertussis as the gold-standard, the positive predictive value of the RT-PCR test was 68.1%. RT-PCR test results should be interpreted in the context of the clinical symptoms, age, vaccination status, prevalence, and other factors. Further information on interpretation of indeterminate RT-PCR results may be needed, and the utility of reporting to public health practitioners should be re-evaluated.
PMCID: PMC4505870  PMID: 26186564
3.  Twenty Years of Medically-Attended Pediatric Varicella and Herpes Zoster in Ontario, Canada: A Population-Based Study 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(7):e0129483.
To determine if reductions in medically-attended pediatric varicella and herpes zoster occurred in Ontario, Canada, after publicly-funded varicella immunization was implemented in 2004.
For fiscal years (FY) 1992-2011, we examined data on varicella and herpes zoster physician office visits, emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations (including for varicella-associated skin and soft tissue infections [SSTI]), and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, among those aged <18 years. The pre-vaccine, privately-available, and vaccine program eras were FY1992-1998, FY1999-2003, and FY2004-2011, respectively. We used Poisson regressionand Kruskal-Wallis tests (all at the p<0.05 level of significance), and compared rates using incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).
Incidence of varicella office visits declined over the study period from a high of 25.1/1,000 in FY1994 to a low of 3.2/1,000 in FY2011. ED visits and hospitalizations followed similar patterns of decreasing rates later in the study period. IRRs comparing the vaccine program versus pre-vaccine eras were 0.29 (95%CI: 0.26-0.32) for office visits, 0.29 (95%CI: 0.21-0.40) for ED visits, and 0.41 (95%CI: 0.10-1.69) for hospitalizations. Annual declines in varicella office visits were 7.7%, 9.1%, 8.4%, and 8.4% per year among children aged <1 year, 1-4 years, 5-11 years, and ≥12 years, respectively (all p<0.001). Age-specific rates of varicella-associated SSTI declined significantly among children <12 years (p<0.001) and rates of ICU admissions decreased significantly for children <1 year (p = 0.02). (p<0.001) over the study period. For children aged 5-17 years, herpes zoster office visits decreased whereas ED visits increased (both p<0.001) and there was a small, non-significant (p = 0.07), decrease in hospitalizations.
Medically-attended varicella decreased during the study period, particularly since varicella vaccine was publicly-funded. Results suggest immunization program-related changes in varicella epidemiology, including herd effects, demonstrated by reductions in varicella in program-ineligible age groups. We did not observe a consistent impact on herpes zoster.
PMCID: PMC4503773  PMID: 26177077
4.  Trends in medical and nonmedical immunization exemptions to measles-containing vaccine in Ontario: an annual cross-sectional assessment of students from school years 2002/03 to 2012/13 
CMAJ Open  2015;3(3):E317-E323.
Under Ontario legislation, for select vaccine-preventable diseases nonimmunized or under-immunized students must undergo vaccination or provide a statement of exemption, or risk suspension from school. At the time of this assessment, these diseases included measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
Exemptions data for the school years 2002/03 to 2012/13 were obtained from the Immunization Records Information System used in Ontario. Temporal trends were expressed for 7- and 17-year-old students by exemption classification (medical, prior immunity, religious or conscientious belief, total) at the provincial level, by school year and by birth cohort. Regional analysis was conducted for the 2012/13 school year. A temporal trend analysis of exemptions for measles-containing vaccines was performed by using a Poisson distribution with a 2-sided test (α = 5%).
For both 7- and 17-year-old students, religious or conscientious exemptions for measles-containing vaccines significantly increased over the study period (p < 0.001 in both age groups), whereas medical exemptions decreased (p < 0.001 in both age groups). The trends were reproduced when examined by birth cohort. The percentage of Ontario students with any exemption classification (total exemptions) remained low (< 2.5%) during the study period, although considerable geographic variation was noted.
Ontario data suggest that nonmedical exemptions have increased during the last 11 years, consistent with trends reported elsewhere. The trend toward increasing religious or conscientious exemptions coupled with declining medical exemptions explains why total exemptions have remained stable or decreased at the provincial level. The prominent geographic variability in exemptions suggests that targeted interventions may be suitable for consideration.
PMCID: PMC4596119  PMID: 26457292
5.  Understanding Public Perceptions of the HPV Vaccination Based on Online Comments to Canadian News Articles 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0129587.
Given the variation in human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine coverage across Canada, and debate regarding delivery of HPV vaccines in Catholic schools, we studied online comments on Canadian news websites to understand public perceptions of HPV and HPV vaccine.
We searched English- and French-language Canadian news websites for 2012 articles that contained the terms “HPV” or “human papillomavirus.” Articles about HPV vaccinations that contained at least one comment were included. Two researchers independently coded comments, analyzing them for emerging themes.
We identified 3073 comments from 1198 individuals in response to 71 news articles; 630 (52.6%) individuals expressed positive sentiments about HPV vaccination (2.5 comments/individual), 404 (33.7%) were negative (3.0 comments/individual), 34 (2.8%) were mixed (1.5 comments/individual) and 130 (10.8%) were neutral (1.6 comments/individual). Vaccine-supportive commenters believed the vaccine is safe and effective. Common themes in negative comments included concerns regarding HPV vaccine safety and efficacy, distrust of pharmaceutical companies and government, and belief that school-age children are too young for HPV vaccine. Many comments focused on whether the Catholic Church has the right to inform health policy for students, and discussion often evolved into debates regarding HPV and sexual behaviour. We noted that many individuals doubted the credibility of vaccine safety information.
The majority of commenters do not appear to be against HPV vaccination, but public health messaging that focuses on both the vaccine’s safety profile, and its use as a means to prevent cancer rather than sexually transmitted HPV infection may facilitate its acceptance.
PMCID: PMC4460033  PMID: 26053866
6.  Pertussis Post-Exposure Prophylaxis among Household Contacts: A Cost-Utility Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(3):e0119271.
Recent pertussis outbreaks have prompted re-examination of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) strategies, when immunization is not immediately protective. Chemoprophylaxis is recommended to household contacts; however there are concerns of clinical failure and significant adverse events, especially with erythromycin among infants who have the highest disease burden. Newer macrolides offer fewer side effects at higher drug costs. We sought to determine the cost-effectiveness of PEP strategies from the health care payer perspective.
A Markov model was constructed to examine 4 mutually exclusive strategies: erythromycin, azithromycin, clarithromycin, or no intervention, stratified by age group of contacts (“infant”, “child”, and “adult”). Transition probabilities, costs and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) were derived from the literature. Chronic neurologic sequelae were modeled over a lifetime, with costs and QALYs discounted at 5%. Associated health outcomes and costs were compared, and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICER) were calculated in 2012 Canadian dollars. Deterministic and probabilistic sensitivity analyses were performed to evaluate the degree of uncertainty in the results.
Azithromycin offered the highest QALYs in all scenarios. While this was the dominant strategy among infants, it produced an ICER of $16,963 per QALY among children and $2,415 per QALY among adults. Total QALYs with azithromycin were 19.7 for a 5-kg infant, 19.4 for a 10-year-old child, and 18.8 for a 30-year-old adult. The costs of azithromycin PEP among infants, children and adults were $1,976, $132 and $90, respectively. While results were sensitive to changes in PEP effectiveness (11% to 87%), disease transmission (variable among age groups) and hospitalization costs ($379 to $59,644), the choice of strategy remained unchanged.
Pertussis PEP is a cost-effective strategy compared with no intervention and plays an important role in contact management, potentially in outbreak situations. From a healthcare payer perspective, azithromycin is the optimal strategy among all contact groups.
PMCID: PMC4352053  PMID: 25747269
7.  Simulation Study of the Effect of Influenza and Influenza Vaccination on Risk of Acquiring Guillain-Barré Syndrome 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2015;21(2):224-231.
Under typical conditions, such as influenza incidence rates of >5% and vaccine effectiveness >60%, vaccination reduced risk.
It is unclear whether seasonal influenza vaccination results in a net increase or decrease in the risk for Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). To assess the effect of seasonal influenza vaccination on the absolute risk of acquiring GBS, we used simulation models and published estimates of age- and sex-specific risks for GBS, influenza incidence, and vaccine effectiveness. For a hypothetical 45-year-old woman and 75-year-old man, excess GBS risk for influenza vaccination versus no vaccination was −0.36/1 million vaccinations (95% credible interval −1.22 to 0.28) and −0.42/1 million vaccinations (95% credible interval, –3.68 to 2.44), respectively. These numbers represent a small absolute reduction in GBS risk with vaccination. Under typical conditions (e.g. influenza incidence rates >5% and vaccine effectiveness >60%), vaccination reduced GBS risk. These findings should strengthen confidence in the safety of influenza vaccine and allow health professionals to better put GBS risk in context when discussing influenza vaccination with patients.
PMCID: PMC4313628  PMID: 25625590
seasonal influenza; influenza vaccination; Guillain-Barré syndrome; risk modeling; decision tree modeling; viruses; vaccination; influenza; modeling
8.  Quality of Life and Associated Socio-Clinical Factors after Encephalitis in Children and Adults in England: A Population-Based, Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103496.
We sought to measure HRQoL in all-cause encephalitis survivors and assess the impact of various socio-clinical factors on outcome.
We used a prospective cohort study design, using the short-form 36 (SF-36) to measure the HRQoL in patients 15 years and older, and the short-form 10 (SF-10) for patients less than 15 years old. We posted questionnaires to individuals six months after discharge from hospital. All scores were normalised to the age- and sex-matched general population. We used multivariate statistical analysis to assess the relative association of clinical and socio-demographic variables on HRQoL in adults.
Of 109 individuals followed-up, we received 61 SF-36 and twenty SF-10 questionnaires (response rate 74%). Patients scored consistently worse than the general population in all domains of the SF-36 and SF-10, although there was variation in individual scores. Infectious encephalitis was associated with the worst HRQoL in those aged 15 years and over, scoring on average 5.64 points less than immune-mediated encephalitis (95% CI −8.77– −2.89). In those aged less than 15 years the worst quality of life followed encephalitis of unknown cause. Immuno compromise, unemployment, and the 35–44 age group all had an independent negative association with HRQoL. A poor Glasgow Outcome Score was most strongly associated with a poor HRQoL. Less than half of those who had made a ‘good’ recovery on the score reported a HRQoL equivalent to the general population.
Encephalitis has adverse effects on the majority of survivors’ wellbeing and quality of life. Many of these adverse consequences could be minimised by prompt identification and treatment, and with better rehabilitation and support for survivors.
PMCID: PMC4114751  PMID: 25072738
9.  Oral Fluid Testing for Pertussis, England and Wales, June 2007–August 2009  
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2014;20(6):968-975.
Existing pertussis surveillance systems tend to underidentify less severe cases among older children and adults. For routine follow-up of notified, nonconfirmed, clinically diagnosed pertussis cases, use of an oral fluid test was pilot tested in England and Wales during June 2007–August 2009. During that period, 1,852 cases of pertussis were confirmed by established laboratory methods and another 591 by oral fluid testing only. Although introduction of serologic testing in 2002 led to the greatest increase in ascertainment of pertussis, oral fluid testing increased laboratory ascertainment by 32% overall; maximal increase (124%) occurred among children 5–9 years of age. Patients whose pertussis was confirmed by oral fluid testing were least likely to be hospitalized, suggesting that milder community cases were being confirmed by this method. Oral fluid testing is an easily administered, noninvasive surveillance tool that could further our understanding of pertussis epidemiology and thereby contribute to decisions on vaccination strategies.
PMCID: PMC4036755  PMID: 24856627
10.  Ethnic disparities in acquiring 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza: a case–control study 
BMC Public Health  2014;14:214.
Novel risk factors were associated with the 2009 pandemic A/H1N1 virus (pH1N1). Ethnicity was among these risk factors. Ethnic disparities in hospitalization and death due to pH1N1 were noted. The purpose of this study is to determine whether there are ethnic disparities in acquiring the 2009 pandemic H1N1.
We conducted a test-negative case–control study of the risk of pH1N1 infection using data from Ontario, Canada. Cases were laboratory confirmed to have influenza using reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), and controls were obtained from the same population and were RT-PCR negative. Multivariate logistic regression was used to determine the association between ethnicity and pH1N1 infection, while adjusting for demographic, clinical and ecological covariates.
Adult cases were more likely than controls to be self-classified as East/Southeast Asian (OR = 2.59, 95% CI 1.02-6.57), South Asian (OR = 6.22, 95% CI 2.01-19.24) and Black (OR = 9.72, 95% CI 2.29-41.27). Pediatric cases were more likely to be self-identified as Black (OR = 6.43, 95% CI 1.83-22.59). However, pediatric cases without risk factors for severe influenza infection were more likely to be South Asian (OR 2.92, 95% CI 1.11-7.68), Black (OR 16.02, 95% CI 2.85-89.92), and West Asian/Arab, Latin American or Multi-racial groups (OR 3.09 95% CI 1.06-9.00).
pH1N1 cases were more likely to come from certain ethnic groups compared to test-negative controls. Insights into whether these disparities arise due to social or biological factors are needed in order to understand what approaches can be taken to reduce the burden of a future influenza pandemic.
PMCID: PMC3942768  PMID: 24580862
Influenza; Ethnicity; Epidemiology
11.  Association between Birth Order and Emergency Room Visits and Acute Hospital Admissions following Pediatric Vaccination: A Self-Controlled Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e81070.
We investigated the association between a child's birth order and emergency room (ER) visits and hospital admissions following 2-,4-,6- and 12-month pediatric vaccinations.
We included all children born in Ontario between April 1st, 2006 and March 31st, 2009 who received a qualifying vaccination. We identified vaccinations, ER visits and admissions using health administrative data housed at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. We used the self-controlled case series design to compare the relative incidence (RI) of events among 1st-born and later-born children using relative incidence ratios (RIR).
For the 2-month vaccination, the RIR for 1st-borns versus later-born children was 1.37 (95% CI: 1.19–1.57), which translates to 112 additional events/100,000 vaccinated. For the 4-month vaccination, the RIR for 1st-borns vs. later-borns was 1.70 (95% CI: 1.45–1.99), representing 157 additional events/100,000 vaccinated. At 6 months, the RIR for 1st vs. later-borns was 1.27 (95% CI: 1.09–1.48), or 77 excess events/100,000 vaccinated. At the 12-month vaccination, the RIR was 1.11 (95% CI: 1.02–1.21), or 249 excess events/100,000 vaccinated.
Birth order is associated with increased incidence of ER visits and hospitalizations following vaccination in infancy. 1st-born children had significantly higher relative incidence of events compared to later-born children.
PMCID: PMC3852020  PMID: 24324662
12.  New Estimates of Incidence of Encephalitis in England 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2013;19(9):1455-1462.
Encephalitis causes high rates of illness and death, yet its epidemiology remains poorly understood. To improve incidence estimates in England and inform priority setting and treatment and prevention strategies, we used hospitalization data to estimate incidence of infectious and noninfectious encephalitis during 2005–2009. Hospitalization data were linked to a dataset of extensively investigated cases of encephalitis from a prospective study, and capture–recapture models were applied. Incidence was estimated from unlinked hospitalization data as 4.32 cases/100,000 population/year. Capture–recapture models gave a best estimate of encephalitis incidence of 5.23 cases/100,000/year, although the models’ indicated incidence could be as high as 8.66 cases/100,000/year. This analysis indicates that the incidence of encephalitis in England is considerably higher than previously estimated. Therefore, encephalitis should be a greater priority for clinicians, researchers, and public health officials.
PMCID: PMC3810913  PMID: 23969035
encephalitis; incidence studies; viral infections; autoimmune diseases; acute disseminated encephalomyelitis; neurological; viruses
13.  Rubella immunity among prenatal women in Ontario, 2006–2010 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2013;13:362.
Countries of the Americas have been working towards rubella elimination since 2003 and endemic rubella virus transmission appears to have been interrupted since 2009. To contribute towards monitoring of rubella elimination, we assessed rubella seroprevalence among prenatal screening tests performed in Ontario.
Specimens received for prenatal rubella serologic testing at the Public Health Ontario Laboratory, the provincial reference laboratory, between 2006 and 2010 were analyzed. A patient-based dataset was created using all tests occurring among 15–49 year-old females, where prenatal screening was indicated. Multiple tests were assigned to the same patient on the basis of health card number, name and date of birth. Only unique tests performed at least nine months apart were included. SAS version 9.2 was used for analysis.
Between 2006 and 2010, we identified 459,963 women who underwent 551,160 unique prenatal screening tests for rubella. Of these, 81.6%, 17.1% and 1.4% had one, two and three or more tests respectively.
Rubella immunity remained stable at approximately 90% overall; the proportion of susceptible women was 4.4%. Additionally, 0.6% of women were initially susceptible and subsequently developed immunity. Across the province, susceptibility was highest in the north and declined with increasing age (p < 0.0001). Among women with multiple tests, the proportion who remained susceptible declined as the number of years between tests increased (p < .0001). Based on age at first test, younger women had the highest susceptibility (4.2% among 15–19 year-olds) and were significantly more likely to develop immunity if previously susceptible (p < .0001).
Rubella susceptibility among prenatal women in Ontario supports elimination goals as population immunity in this group is relatively high. Higher susceptibility among young women and women living in the north highlights an opportunity for greater focus on identification and immunization of susceptible women in these groups.
PMCID: PMC3735453  PMID: 23914729
Rubella; Seroprevalence study; Prenatal screening; Rubella elimination goals; Ontario; Canada
14.  Vaccine Effectiveness Against Laboratory-Confirmed Influenza Hospitalizations Among Elderly Adults During the 2010–2011 Season 
Although the benefits of influenza vaccines for preventing serious influenza outcomes in elderly adults are uncertain, the results of this study suggest that the 2010–2011 influenza vaccine was 42% effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations in this high-risk population.
Background. Although annual influenza immunization is recommended for adults aged ≥65 years due to the substantial burden of illness, the evidence base for this recommendation is weak. Prior observational studies that examined influenza vaccine effectiveness against nonspecific serious outcomes suffered from selection bias and the lack of laboratory confirmation for influenza infection. The objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of the 2010–2011 seasonal influenza vaccine against laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations among community-dwelling elderly adults, a serious and highly specific outcome.
Methods. We conducted a test-negative study of community-dwelling adults aged >65 years in Ontario, Canada. Respiratory specimens collected between 1 December 2010 and 30 April 2011 from patients admitted to acute care hospitals were tested for influenza using nucleic acid amplification techniques. Influenza vaccination was ascertained from physician billing claims through linkage to health administrative datasets.
Results. Receipt of the 2010–2011 seasonal influenza vaccine was associated with a 42% (95% confidence interval, 29%–53%) reduction in laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations. Vaccine effectiveness estimates were consistent across age groups, by sex, and regardless of outcome severity, timing of testing, and when considering individuals vaccinated <7 or <14 days prior to admission as unvaccinated.
Conclusions. Results of this study will better inform decision making regarding influenza vaccination of elderly adults. Similar analyses are needed annually due to antigenic drift and frequent changes in influenza vaccine composition. The linkage of routinely collected laboratory testing and health administrative data represents an efficient method for estimating influenza vaccine effectiveness that complements prospective studies.
PMCID: PMC3749748  PMID: 23788243
influenza vaccine; hospitalization; vaccine effectiveness; elderly adults
15.  Contagious Comments: What Was the Online Buzz About the 2011 Quebec Measles Outbreak? 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e64072.
Although interruption of endemic measles was achieved in the Americas in 2002, Quebec experienced an outbreak in 2011 of 776 reported cases; 80% of these individuals had not been fully vaccinated. We analyzed readers’ online responses to Canadian news articles regarding the outbreak to better understand public perceptions of measles and vaccination.
We searched Canadian online English and French news sites for articles posted between April 2011 and March 2012 containing the words “measles” and “Quebec”. We included articles that i) concerned the outbreak or related vaccination strategies; and ii) generated at least ten comments. Two English and two bilingual researchers coded the unedited comments, categorizing codes to allow themes to emerge.
We analyzed 448 comments from 188 individuals, in response to three French articles and six English articles; 112 individuals expressed positive perceptions of measles vaccination (2.2 comments/person), 38 were negative (4.2 comments/person), 11 had mixed feelings (1.5 comments/person), and 27 expressed no opinion (1.1 comments/person). Vaccine-supportive themes involved the success of vaccination in preventing disease spread, societal responsibility to vaccinate for herd immunity, and refutation of the autism link. Those against measles vaccination felt it was a personal rather than societal choice, and conveyed a distrust of vaccine manufacturers, believing that measles infection is not only safe but safer than vaccination. Commenters with mixed feelings expressed uncertainty of the infection’s severity, and varied in support of all vaccines based on perceived risk/benefit ratios.
The anti-vaccine minority’s volume of comments translates to a disproportionately high representation on online boards. Public health messages should address concerns by emphasizing that immunization is always a personal choice in Canada, and that the pharmaceutical industry is strictly controlled. Illustrating the dangers of measles through personal stories, rather than scientific data only, may also serve to strengthen messaging.
PMCID: PMC3654905  PMID: 23691152
17.  Human papilloma virus vaccination programs reduce health inequity in most scenarios: a simulation study 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:935.
The global and within-country epidemiology of cervical cancer exemplifies health inequity. Public health programs may reduce absolute risk but increase inequity; inequity may be further compounded by screening programs. In this context, we aimed to explore what the impact of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine might have on health equity allowing for uncertainty surrounding the long-term effect of HPV vaccination programs.
A simple static multi-way sensitivity analysis was carried out to compare the relative risk, comparing after to before implementation of a vaccination program, of infections which would cause invasive cervical cancer if neither prevented nor detected, using plausible ranges of vaccine effectiveness, vaccination coverage, screening sensitivity, screening uptake and changes in uptake.
We considered a total number of 3,793,902 scenarios. In 63.9% of scenarios considered, vaccination would lead to a better outcome for a population or subgroup with that combination of parameters. Regardless of vaccine effectiveness and coverage, most simulations led to lower rates of disease.
If vaccination coverage and screening uptake are high, then communities are always better off with a vaccination program. The findings highlight the importance of achieving and maintaining high immunization coverage and screening uptake in high risk groups in the interest of health equity.
PMCID: PMC3529110  PMID: 23113881
18.  The use of syndromic surveillance for decision-making during the H1N1 pandemic: A qualitative study 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:929.
Although an increasing number of studies are documenting uses of syndromic surveillance by front line public health, few detail the value added from linking syndromic data to public health decision-making. This study seeks to understand how syndromic data informed specific public health actions during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with participants from Ontario’s public health departments, the provincial ministry of health and federal public health agency to gather information about syndromic surveillance systems used and the role of syndromic data in informing specific public health actions taken during the pandemic. Responses were compared with how the same decisions were made by non-syndromic surveillance users.
Findings from 56 interviews (82% response) show that syndromic data were most used for monitoring virus activity, measuring impact on the health care system and informing the opening of influenza assessment centres in several jurisdictions, and supporting communications and messaging, rather than its intended purpose of early outbreak detection. Syndromic data had limited impact on decisions that involved the operation of immunization clinics, school closures, sending information letters home with school children or providing recommendations to health care providers. Both syndromic surveillance users and non-users reported that guidance from the provincial ministry of health, communications with stakeholders and vaccine availability were driving factors in these public health decisions.
Syndromic surveillance had limited use in decision-making during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in Ontario. This study provides insights into the reasons why this occurred. Despite this, syndromic data were valued for providing situational awareness and confidence to support public communications and recommendations. Developing an understanding of how syndromic data are utilized during public health events provides valuable evidence to support future investments in public health surveillance.
PMCID: PMC3539916  PMID: 23110473
Decision making; Pandemic influenza; Public health; Surveillance; Syndromic surveillance
19.  Influenza vaccination coverage across ethnic groups in Canada 
The success of influenza vaccination campaigns may be suboptimal if subgroups of the population face unique barriers or have misconceptions about vaccination. We conducted a national study to estimate influenza vaccine coverage across 12 ethnic groups in Canada to assess the presence of ethnic disparities.
We pooled responses to the Canadian Community Health Survey between 2003 and 2009 (n = 437 488). We estimated ethnicity-specific self-reported influenza vaccine coverage for the overall population, for people aged 65 years and older, and for people aged 12–64 years with and without chronic conditions. We used weighted logistic regression models to examine the association between ethnicity and influenza vaccination, adjusting for sociodemographic factors and health status.
Influenza vaccination coverage ranged from 25% to 41% across ethnic groups. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors and health status for people aged 12 years and older, all ethnic groups were more likely to have received a vaccination against influenza than people who self-identified as white, with the exception of those who self-identified as black (odds ratio [OR] 1.01, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.88–1.15). Compared with white Canadians, Canadians of Filipino (OR 2.00, 95% CI 1.67–2.40) and Southeast Asian (OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.36–2.03) descent had the greatest likelihood of having received vaccination against influenza.
Influenza vaccine coverage in Canada varies by ethnicity. Black and white Canadians have the lowest uptake of influenza vaccine of the ethnic groups represented in our study. Further research is needed to understand the facilitators, barriers and misconceptions relating to vaccination that exist across ethnic groups, and to identify promotional strategies that may improve uptake among black and white Canadians.
PMCID: PMC3478352  PMID: 22966054
20.  The Impact of Infection on Population Health: Results of the Ontario Burden of Infectious Diseases Study 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44103.
Evidence-based priority setting is increasingly important for rationally distributing scarce health resources and for guiding future health research. We sought to quantify the contribution of a wide range of infectious diseases to the overall infectious disease burden in a high-income setting.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We used health-adjusted life years (HALYs), a composite measure comprising premature mortality and reduced functioning due to disease, to estimate the burden of 51 infectious diseases and associated syndromes in Ontario using 2005–2007 data. Deaths were estimated from vital statistics data and disease incidence was estimated from reportable disease, healthcare utilization, and cancer registry data, supplemented by local modeling studies and national and international epidemiologic studies. The 51 infectious agents and associated syndromes accounted for 729 lost HALYs, 44.2 deaths, and 58,987 incident cases per 100,000 population annually. The most burdensome infectious agents were: hepatitis C virus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, human papillomavirus, hepatitis B virus, human immunodeficiency virus, Staphylococcus aureus, influenza virus, Clostridium difficile, and rhinovirus. The top five, ten, and 20 pathogens accounted for 46%, 67%, and 75% of the total infectious disease burden, respectively. Marked sex-specific differences in disease burden were observed for some pathogens. The main limitations of this study were the exclusion of certain infectious diseases due to data availability issues, not considering the impact of co-infections and co-morbidity, and the inability to assess the burden of milder infections that do not result in healthcare utilization.
Infectious diseases continue to cause a substantial health burden in high-income settings such as Ontario. Most of this burden is attributable to a relatively small number of infectious agents, for which many effective interventions have been previously identified. Therefore, these findings should be used to guide public health policy, planning, and research.
PMCID: PMC3433488  PMID: 22962601
21.  Epidemiology of serogroup B invasive meningococcal disease in Ontario, Canada, 2000 to 2010 
BMC Infectious Diseases  2012;12:202.
Invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) caused by serogroup B is the last major serogroup in Canada to become vaccine-preventable. The anticipated availability of vaccines targeting this serogroup prompted an assessment of the epidemiology of serogroup B disease in Ontario, Canada.
We retrieved information on confirmed IMD cases reported to Ontario’s reportable disease database between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2010 and probabilistically-linked these cases to Public Health Ontario Laboratory records. Rates were calculated with denominator data obtained from Statistics Canada. We calculated a crude number needed to vaccinate using the inverse of the infant (<1 year) age-specific incidence multiplied by expected vaccine efficacies between 70% and 80%, and assuming only direct protection (no herd effects).
A total of 259 serogroup B IMD cases were identified in Ontario over the 11-year period. Serogroup B was the most common cause of IMD. Incidence ranged from 0.11 to 0.27/100,000/year, and fluctuated over time. Cases ranged in age from 13 days to 101 years; 21.4% occurred in infants, of which 72.7% were <6 months. Infants had the highest incidence (3.70/100,000). Case-fatality ratio was 10.7% overall. If we assume that all infant cases would be preventable by vaccination, we would need to vaccinate between 33,784 and 38,610 infants to prevent one case of disease.
Although rare, the proportion of IMD caused by serogroup B has increased and currently causes most IMD in Ontario, with infants having the highest risk of disease. Although serogroup B meningococcal vaccines are highly anticipated, our findings suggest that decisions regarding publicly funding serogroup B meningococcal vaccines will be difficult and may not be based on disease burden alone.
PMCID: PMC3472197  PMID: 22928839
Invasive meningococcal disease; Neisseria meningitidis; Serogroup B; Epidemiology; Surveillance; Ontario; Canada
22.  The potential effect of temporary immunity as a result of bias associated with healthy users and social determinants on observations of influenza vaccine effectiveness; could unmeasured confounding explain observed links between seasonal influenza vaccine and pandemic H1N1 infection? 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:458.
Five observational studies from Canada found an association between seasonal influenza vaccine receipt and increased risk of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009 infection. This association remains unexplained. Although uncontrolled confounding has been suggested as a possible explanation, the nature of such confounding has not been identified. Observational studies of influenza vaccination can be affected by confounding due to healthy users and the influence of social determinants on health. The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence that these two potential confounders may have in combination with temporary immunity, using stratified tables. The hypothesis is that respiratory virus infections may activate a temporary immunity that provides short-term non-specific protection against influenza and that the relationship with being a healthy user or having a social determinant may result in confounding.
We simulated the effect of confounding on vaccine effectiveness assuming that this could result from both social determinants and healthy user effects as they both influence the risk of seasonal influenza and non-influenza respiratory virus infections as well as the likelihood of being vaccinated. We then examined what impact this may have had on measurement of seasonal influenza vaccine effectiveness against pandemic influenza.
In this simulation, failure to adjust for healthy users and social determinants would result in an erroneously increased risk of pandemic influenza infection associated with seasonal influenza vaccination. The effect sizes were not however large.
We found that unmeasured healthy user effects and social determinants could result in an apparent association between seasonal influenza vaccine and pandemic influenza infection by virtue of being related to temporary immunity. Adjustment for social determinants of health and the healthy user effects are required in order to improve the quality of observational studies of influenza vaccine effectiveness.
PMCID: PMC3490826  PMID: 22716096
Influenza; Influenza vaccination; Confounding; Epidemiology
23.  The epidemiology of travel-related Salmonella Enteritidis in Ontario, Canada, 2010–2011 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:310.
Increases in the number of salmonellosis cases due to Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in 2010 and 2011 prompted a public health investigation in Ontario, Canada. In this report, we describe the current epidemiology of travel-related (TR) SE, compare demographics, symptoms and phage types (PTs) of TR and domestically-acquired (DA) cases, and estimate the odds of acquiring SE by region of the world visited.
All incident cases of culture confirmed SE in Ontario obtained from isolates and specimens submitted to public health laboratories were included in this study. Demographic and illness characteristics of TR and DA cases were compared. A national travel survey was used to provide estimates for the number of travellers to various destinations to approximate rates of SE in travellers. Multivariate logistic regression was used to estimate the odds of acquiring SE when travelling to various world regions.
Overall, 51.9% of SE cases were TR during the study period. This ranged from 35.7% TR cases in the summer travel period to 65.1% TR cases in the winter travel period. Compared to DA cases, TR cases were older and were less likely to seek hospital care. For Ontario travellers, the adjusted odds of acquiring SE was the highest for the Caribbean (OR 37.29, 95% CI 17.87-77.82) when compared to Europe. Certain PTs were more commonly associated with travel (e.g., 1, 4, 5b, 7a, Atypical) than with domestic infection. Of the TR cases, 88.9% were associated with travel to the Caribbean and Mexico region, of whom 90.1% reported staying on a resort. Within this region, there were distinct associations between PTs and countries.
There is a large burden of TR illness from SE in Ontario. Accurate classification of cases by travel history is important to better understand the source of infections. The findings emphasize the need to make travellers, especially to the Caribbean, and health professionals who provide advice to travellers, aware of this risk. The findings may be generalized to other jurisdictions with travel behaviours in their residents similar to Ontario residents.
PMCID: PMC3356229  PMID: 22537320
24.  Determining Mortality Rates Attributable to Clostridium difficile Infection 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2012;18(2):305-307.
To determine accuracy of measures of deaths attributable to Clostridium difficile infection, we compared 3 measures for 2007–2008 in Ontario, Canada: death certificate; death within 30 days of infection; and panel review. Data on death within 30 days were more feasible than panel review and more accurate than death certificate data.
PMCID: PMC3310441  PMID: 22305427
Clostridium difficile; mortality; mortality rates; deaths; death certificates; panel review; Ontario; Canada
25.  Diphtheria in the Postepidemic Period, Europe, 2000–2009 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2012;18(2):217-225.
Efforts must be made to maintain high vaccination coverage.
Diphtheria incidence has decreased in Europe since its resurgence in the 1990s, but circulation continues in some countries in eastern Europe, and sporadic cases have been reported elsewhere. Surveillance data from Diphtheria Surveillance Network countries and the World Health Organization European Region for 2000–2009 were analyzed. Latvia reported the highest annual incidence in Europe each year, but the Russian Federation and Ukraine accounted for 83% of all cases. Over the past 10 years, diphtheria incidence has decreased by >95% across the region. Although most deaths occurred in disease-endemic countries, case-fatality rates were highest in countries to which diphtheria is not endemic, where unfamiliarity can lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment. In western Europe, toxigenic Corynebacterium ulcerans has increasingly been identified as the etiologic agent. Reduction in diphtheria incidence over the past 10 years is encouraging, but maintaining high vaccination coverage is essential to prevent indigenous C. ulcerans and reemergence of C. diphtheriae infections.
PMCID: PMC3310452  PMID: 22304732
diphtheria; Corynebacterium diphtheriae; Corynebacterium ulcerans; bacteria; toxin; surveillance; immunization; vaccination; pseudomembrane; antitoxin; epidemiology; Europe

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