Value of syndromic surveillance in monitoring a focal waterborne outbreak due to an unusual cryptosporidium genotype in Northamptonshire, United Kingdom, June-July 2008
Smith S., Elliot AJ., Mallaghan C., Modha D., Hippisley-Cox J., Large S., Regan M., Smith GE.
The United Kingdom (UK) has several national syndromic surveillance systems. The Health Protection Agency (HPA)/NHS Direct syndromic surveillance system uses pre-diagnostic syndromic data from a national telephone helpline, while the HPA/ QSurveillance national surveillance system uses clinical diagnosis data extracted from general practitioner (GP)-based clinical information systems. Data from both of these systems were used to monitor a local outbreak of cryptosporidiosis that occurred following Cryptosporidium oocyst contamination of drinking water supplied from the Pitsford Reservoir in Northamptonshire, United Kingdom, in June 2008. There was a peak in the number of calls to NHS Direct concerning diarrhoea that coincided with the incident. QSurveillance data for the local areas affected by the outbreak showed a significant increase in GP consultations for diarrhoea and gastroenteritis in the week of the incident but there was no increase in consultations for vomiting. A total of 33 clinical cases of cryptosporidiosis were identified in the outbreak investigation, of which 23 were confirmed as infected with the outbreak strain. However, QSurveillance data suggest that there were an estimated 422 excess diarrhoea cases during the outbreak, an increase of about 25% over baseline weekly levels. To our knowledge, this is the first time that data from a syndromic surveillance system, the HPA/QSurveillance national surveillance system, have been able to show the extent of such a small outbreak at a local level. QSurveillance, which covers about 38% of the UK population, is currently the only GP database that is able to provide data at local health district (primary care trust) level. The Cryptosporidium contamination incident described demonstrates the potential usefulness of this information, as it is unusual for syndromic surveillance systems to be able to help monitor such a small-scale outbreak.