Background: The revised World Health Organization's International Health Regulations (2005) request a timely and all-hazard approach towards surveillance, especially at the subnational level. We discuss three questions of syndromic surveillance application in the European context for assessing public health emergencies of international concern: (i) can syndromic surveillance support countries, especially the subnational level, to meet the International Health Regulations (2005) core surveillance capacity requirements, (ii) are European syndromic surveillance systems comparable to enable cross-border surveillance, and (iii) at which administrative level should syndromic surveillance best be applied? Discussion: Despite the ongoing criticism on the usefulness of syndromic surveillance which is related to its clinically nonspecific output, we demonstrate that it was a suitable supplement for timely assessment of the impact of three different public health emergencies affecting Europe. Subnational syndromic surveillance analysis in some cases proved to be of advantage for detecting an event earlier compared to national level analysis. However, in many cases, syndromic surveillance did not detect local events with only a small number of cases. The European Commission envisions comparability of surveillance output to enable cross-border surveillance. Evaluated against European infectious disease case definitions, syndromic surveillance can contribute to identify cases that might fulfil the clinical case definition but the approach is too unspecific to comply to complete clinical definitions. Syndromic surveillance results still seem feasible for comparable cross-border surveillance as similarly defined syndromes are analysed. We suggest a new model of implementing syndromic surveillance at the subnational level. In this model, syndromic surveillance systems are fine-tuned to their local context and integrated into the existing subnational surveillance and reporting structure. By enhancing population coverage, events covering several jurisdictions can be identified at higher levels. However, the setup of decentralised and locally adjusted syndromic surveillance systems is more complex compared to the setup of one national or local system. Summary: We conclude that syndromic surveillance if implemented with large population coverage at the subnational level can help detect and assess the local and regional effect of different types of public health emergencies in a timely manner as required by the International Health Regulations (2005).
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health