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Under-reporting of pertussis in Ontario: a Canadian Immunization Research Network (CIRN) study using capture-recapture


Introduction — Under-reporting of pertussis cases is a longstanding challenge. We estimated the true number of pertussis cases in Ontario using multiple data sources, and evaluated the completeness of each source.

Methods — We linked data from multiple sources for the period 2009 to 2015: public health reportable disease surveillance data, public health laboratory data, and health administrative data (hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and physician office visits). To estimate the total number of pertussis cases in Ontario, we used a three-source capture-recapture analysis stratified by age (infants, or aged one year and older) and adjusting for dependency between sources. We used the Bayesian Information Criterion to compare models.

Results — Using probable and confirmed reported cases, laboratory data, and combined hospitalizations/emergency department visits, the estimated total number of cases during the six-year period amongst infants was 924, compared with 545 unique observed cases from all sources. Using the same sources, the estimated total for those aged 1 year and older was 12,883, compared with 3,304 observed cases from all sources. Only 37% of infants and 11% for those aged 1 year and over admitted to hospital or seen in an emergency department for pertussis were reported to public health. Public health reporting sensitivity varied from 2% to 68% depending on age group and the combination of data sources included. Sensitivity of combined hospitalizations and emergency department visits varied from 37% to 49% and of laboratory data from 1% to 50%.

Conclusions — All data sources contribute cases and are complementary, suggesting that the incidence of pertussis is substantially higher than suggested by routine reports. The sensitivity of different data sources varies. Better case identification is required to improve pertussis control in Ontario.



Crowcroft NS, Johnson C, Chen C, Li Y, Marchand-Austin A, Bolotin S, Schwartz K, Deeks SL, Jamieson F, Drews S, Russell ML, Svenson LW, Simmonds K, Mahmud SM, Kwong JC. PLoS One. 2018; 13(5):e0195984. Epub 2018 May 2.

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