Electronic Surveillance Systems Used in Identifying Infectious Outbreaks

It is important for public heath officials to know of any infectious disease outbreaks as soon as possible, and gathering information about where and when individual cases of illness are occurring can help officials prioritize and determine what actions need to be taken. Electronic surveillance of infectious disease outbreaks automatically links health care providers with centralized agencies responsible for monitoring outbreaks.


SurvNet is an electronic surveillance system in Germany that was implemented by the Robert Koch Institute, or RKI, in 2001 that links all 431 local health departments in the country with the 16 state health departments as well as the national surveillance unit at RKI. In the period from 2001 to 2005, SurvNet identified 30,578 outbreaks of infectious diseases that ranged in size from two to 527 cases. Information transmitted to RKI does not include identifying information about infected individuals, but local health agencies collect full case data that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes "demographic characteristics, time, place, diagnostics, case definition criteria, exposure to risk factors, and associations with outbreaks as well as administrative data on where, when and by whom the data set is being installed and modified."


Illinois National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, or I-NEDDS, first released in 2004, is part of a national electronic disease reporting system that connects health care providers with state agencies; it also connects these state agencies with national health agencies, such as the CDC. The I-NEDDS system tracks 77 distinct reportable diseases, including 10 food-borne diseases. Emerging diseases can be added to the system at any time. In 2008, during a local shortage of rabies vaccines, I-NEDSS was configured to track information related to rabies vaccine information. Within 24 hours, local health departments were able to more effectively manage the vaccine shortage.


The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, or GOARN, is a collaboration of existing networks world-wide orchestrated by the World Health Organization, or WHO, with the purpose of coordinating international responses for local outbreaks of diseases to ensure that the appropriate assistance arrives quickly. It also improves global preparedness for future outbreaks. First meeting in 2000, GOARN includes scientific institutions, technical networks and laboratories in member states, as well as international organizations, such as UNICEF, the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières. GOARN encourages the standardization of laboratory procedures, reporting formats and other information that is collected regarding the details of the occurrences of infectious diseases.


The Global Public Health Information Network, or GPHIN, is an Internet-based surveillance system that monitors global media sources in six languages. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, GPHIN searches for information about "disease outbreaks, infectious diseases, contaminated food and water, bioterrorism and exposure to chemicals, natural disasters and issues related to the safety of products, drugs and medical devices and radioactive agents." GPHIN then provides real-time public health information to government health agencies as well as nongovernmental users.