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1.  Disease surveillance using a hidden Markov model 
Routine surveillance of disease notification data can enable the early detection of localised disease outbreaks. Although hidden Markov models (HMMs) have been recognised as an appropriate method to model disease surveillance data, they have been rarely applied in public health practice. We aimed to develop and evaluate a simple flexible HMM for disease surveillance which is suitable for use with sparse small area count data and requires little baseline data.
A Bayesian HMM was designed to monitor routinely collected notifiable disease data that are aggregated by residential postcode. Semi-synthetic data were used to evaluate the algorithm and compare outbreak detection performance with the established Early Aberration Reporting System (EARS) algorithms and a negative binomial cusum.
Algorithm performance varied according to the desired false alarm rate for surveillance. At false alarm rates around 0.05, the cusum-based algorithms provided the best overall outbreak detection performance, having similar sensitivity to the HMMs and a shorter average time to detection. At false alarm rates around 0.01, the HMM algorithms provided the best overall outbreak detection performance, having higher sensitivity than the cusum-based Methods and a generally shorter time to detection for larger outbreaks. Overall, the 14-day HMM had a significantly greater area under the receiver operator characteristic curve than the EARS C3 and 7-day negative binomial cusum algorithms.
Our findings suggest that the HMM provides an effective method for the surveillance of sparse small area notifiable disease data at low false alarm rates. Further investigations are required to evaluation algorithm performance across other diseases and surveillance contexts.
PMCID: PMC2735038  PMID: 19664256
2.  Applying cusum-based methods for the detection of outbreaks of Ross River virus disease in Western Australia 
The automated monitoring of routinely collected disease surveillance data has the potential to ensure that important changes in disease incidence are promptly recognised. However, few studies have established whether the signals produced by automated monitoring methods correspond with events considered by epidemiologists to be of public health importance. This study investigates the correspondence between retrospective epidemiological evaluation of notifications of Ross River virus (RRv) disease in Western Australia, and the signals produced by two cumulative sum (cusum)-based automated monitoring methods.
RRv disease case notification data between 1991 and 2004 were assessed retrospectively by two experienced epidemiologists, and the timing of identified outbreaks was compared with signals generated from two different types of cusum-based automated monitoring algorithms; the three Early Aberration Reporting System (EARS) cusum algorithms (C1, C2 and C3), and a negative binomial cusum.
We found the negative binomial cusum to have a significantly greater area under the receiver operator characteristic curve when compared with the EARS algorithms, suggesting that the negative binomial cusum has a greater level of agreement with epidemiological opinion than the EARS algorithms with respect to the existence of outbreaks of RRv disease, particularly at low false alarm rates. However, the performance of individual EARS and negative binomial cusum algorithms were not significantly different when timeliness was also incorporated into the area under the curve analyses.
Our retrospective analysis of historical data suggests that, compared with the EARS algorithms, the negative binomial cusum provides greater sensitivity for the detection of outbreaks of RRv disease at low false alarm levels, and decreased timeliness early in the outbreak period. Prospective studies are required to investigate the potential usefulness of these algorithms in practice.
PMCID: PMC2542357  PMID: 18700044
3.  Using GIS to create synthetic disease outbreaks 
The ability to detect disease outbreaks in their early stages is a key component of efficient disease control and prevention. With the increased availability of electronic health-care data and spatio-temporal analysis techniques, there is great potential to develop algorithms to enable more effective disease surveillance. However, to ensure that the algorithms are effective they need to be evaluated. The objective of this research was to develop a transparent user-friendly method to simulate spatial-temporal disease outbreak data for outbreak detection algorithm evaluation.
A state-transition model which simulates disease outbreaks in daily time steps using specified disease-specific parameters was developed to model the spread of infectious diseases transmitted by person-to-person contact. The software was developed using the MapBasic programming language for the MapInfo Professional geographic information system environment.
The simulation model developed is a generalised and flexible model which utilises the underlying distribution of the population and incorporates patterns of disease spread that can be customised to represent a range of infectious diseases and geographic locations. This model provides a means to explore the ability of outbreak detection algorithms to detect a variety of events across a large number of stochastic replications where the influence of uncertainty can be controlled. The software also allows historical data which is free from known outbreaks to be combined with simulated outbreak data to produce files for algorithm performance assessment.
This simulation model provides a flexible method to generate data which may be useful for the evaluation and comparison of outbreak detection algorithm performance.
PMCID: PMC1805744  PMID: 17300714

Results 1-3 (3)