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Improving estimates of pertussis burden in Ontario, Canada 2010-2017 by combining validation and capture-recapture methodologies


An underestimation of pertussis burden has impeded understanding of transmission and disallows effective policy and prevention to be prioritized and enacted. Capture-recapture analyses can improve burden estimates; however, uncertainty remains around incorporating health administrative data due to accuracy limitations. The aim of this study is to explore the impact of pertussis case definitions and data accuracy on capture-recapture estimates. We used a dataset from March 7, 2010 to December 31, 2017 comprised of pertussis case report, laboratory, and health administrative data. We compared Chao capture-recapture abundance estimates using prevalence, incidence, and adjusted false positive case definitions. The latter was developed by removing the proportion of false positive physician billing code-only case episodes after validation. We calculated sensitivity by dividing the number of observed cases by abundance. Abundance estimates demonstrated that a high proportion of cases were missed by all sources. Under the primary analysis, the highest sensitivity of 78.5% (95% CI 76.2–80.9%) for those less than one year of age was obtained using all sources after adjusting for false positives, which dropped to 43.1% (95% CI 42.4–43.8%) for those one year of age or older. Most code-only episodes were false positives (91.0%), leading to considerably lower abundance estimates and improvements in laboratory testing and case report sensitivity using this definition. Accuracy limitations can be accounted for in capture-recapture analyses using different case definitions and adjustment. The latter enhanced the validity of estimates, furthering the utility of capture-recapture methods to epidemiological research. Findings demonstrated that all sources consistently fail to detect pertussis cases. This is differential by age, suggesting ascertainment and testing bias. Results demonstrate the value of incorporating real time health administrative data into public health surveillance if accuracy limitations can be addressed.



McBurney SH, Kwong JC, Brown KA, Rudzicz F, Wilton A, Crowcroft NS. PLoS One. 2023; 18(12):e0273205. Epub 2023 Dec 1.

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