Epidemiology and Infection

Short Report

Linking syndromic surveillance with virological self-sampling

D. L. COOPERa1 c1, G. E. SMITHa1, F. CHINEMANAa2, C. JOSEPHa3, P. LOVERIDGEa1, P. SEBASTIONPILLAIa4, E. GERARDa5 and M. ZAMBONa4

a1 Regional Surveillance Unit, Health Protection Agency West Midlands, Birmingham, UK

a2 NHS Direct Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Southampton, UK

a3 Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, London, UK

a4 Health Protection Agency Virus Reference Department, London, UK

a5 NHS Direct, London, UK

Abstract

Calls to a UK national telephone health helpline (NHS Direct) have been used for syndromic surveillance, aiming to provide early warning of rises in community morbidity. We investigated whether self-sampling by NHS Direct callers could provide viable samples for influenza culture. We recruited 294 NHS Direct callers and sent them self-sampling kits. Callers were asked to take a swab from each nostril and post them to the laboratory. Forty-two per cent of the samples were returned, 16·2% were positive on PCR for influenza (16 influenza A(H3N2), three influenza A (H1N1), four influenza B) and eight for RSV (5·6%). The mean time between the NHS Direct call and laboratory analysis was 7·4 days. These samples provided amongst the earliest influenza reports of the season, detected multiple influenza strains, and augmented a national syndromic surveillance system. Self-sampling is a feasible method of enhancing community-based surveillance programmes for detection of influenza.

(Accepted February 28 2007)

(Online publication April 30 2007)

Correspondence:

c1 Author for correspondence: Mr D. L. Cooper, Senior Scientist, Regional Surveillance Unit, Health Protection Agency West Midlands, 9th Floor, Lincoln House, 45/46 Stephenson Street, Birmingham B2 4DY, UK. (Email: Duncan.cooper@hpa.org.uk)

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