Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Disease Surveillance

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Disease surveillance is defined as the systematic data collection, data analysis and interpretation of the results in order to enable effective planning in the aspect of disease control. It enables infectious diseases to be detected early so that their potential threat to the public is minimized. The threats may be due to cases of food borne infections, bioterrorism and communicable diseases (Lombardo and Buckeridge, 2007). There are several systems and networks that have been put in place in order to help in the surveillance of infectious diseases.

Disease surveillance also requires the collaboration of different partners and officials, an effective communication system and reliable laboratory networks in order to be effective. BioSense involves the use of syndromic data derived from different electronic sources. This improves the speed at which disease is detected. It enables outbreaks to be detected early enough before they lead to serious problems. It has been applied in different sectors by the state such as to detect any cases of bioterrorism and other threats that may put the lives of the citizens in danger.

This system has been employed by CDC (United States Government Accountability Office, 2004). Electronic Laboratory Exchange Networks (eLEXNET) is a surveillance system used in food safety. It is a web-based system used in state, federal and even local agencies. It enables the collaboration of both the government and health officials in that the data regarding food safety is shared and therefore the potential risk of a possible outbreak of food borne diseases is detected early enough (United States Government Accountability Office, 2004).

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The other type of syndromic system is the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community based Epidemics (ESSENCE). It relies on data that is got from hospitals, dispensaries and clinics. This data is collected daily and assist in the tracking of the common syndromes found in a particular area. Historical data is also helpful in this system since it acts as a starting point for the epidemiologists. The officials can also pin point the specific area or region with a high number of a certain syndrome through the use of a geographic information system (United States Government Accountability Office, 2004).

Epidemic Information Exchange (Epi-X) is a web based communication system usually used by CDC. It enables the sharing of information with the state, federal and other pubic health officials. It is an effective system since it enables the authorized users to share information and get feedbacks on every issue such as the efforts put in place for the control of infectious diseases (United States Government Accountability Office, 2004). Food borne Disease Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) is a system which is designed to respond to any new food borne disease that is of public importance.

It also monitors the trend and identifies the specific sources of these diseases. It is a more reliable and an accurate system in the estimation of incidences of these diseases (United States Government Accountability Office, 2004). Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) enable keen surveillance of diseases which have either been confirmed or rumored. It is mostly used by WHO in the surveillance of diseases that are of worldwide importance. The information is gotten from different sources such as the media, institutions and health ministries in different countries (United States Government Accountability Office, 2004).

Other systems that have also been used include Global Public Health Intelligence (GPHIN), Health Alert Network (HAN), Laboratory Response Network (LRN), National Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NEDSS), National Electronic Telecommunications System for Surveillance (NETSS), National Retail Data Monitor (NRDM), Real Time Outbreak and Disease Surveillance (RODS) and Sexually Transmitted Disease Management Information System (STDMIS) (United States Government Accountability Office, 2004).

These systems require a number of key factors in order for disease surveillance to be effective. First, the source of data must be reliable to enable the accurate and fast response during surveillance. The data is the baseline for surveillance as seen in all the systems above such as ESSENCE and BioSense. Therefore, surveillance cannot be possible without data. Secondly, effective communication networks which enables the information to be shared with other partners such as the state, federal and public health officials.


Lombardo, J.S. & Buckeridge, D.L. (2007).Disease Surveillance: A Public Health Informatics Approach. New Jersey: John Wiley & sons, Inc.

United States Government Accountability Office. (2004). Emerging Infectious Diseases: Review          of State and Federal Disease Surveillance Efforts. Retrieved on 12th May 2010 from   

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