Web-based participatory surveillance of infectious diseases: the Influenzanet participatory surveillance experience

D. Paolotti, A. Carnahan, V. Colizza, K. Eames, J. Edmunds, G. Gomes, C. Koppeschaar, M. Rehn, R. Smallenburg, C. Turbelin, S.P. Van Noort, A. Vespignani
Clinical Microbiology and Infection
20: 17-21 (2014)
December 18, 2013


To overcome the  limitations of the state-of-the-art influenza surveillance systems in Europe,  we established in 2008 a European-wide consortium aimed at introducing an  innovative information and communication technology approach for a web-based  surveillance system across different European countries, called Influenzanet.  The system, based on earlier efforts in The Netherlands and Portugal, works  with the participation of the population in each country to collect real-time  information on the distribution of influenza-like illness cases through web  surveys administered to volunteers reporting their symptoms (or lack of  symptoms) every week during the influenza season. Such a large European-wide  web-based monitoring infrastructure is intended to rapidly identify public  health emergencies, contribute to understanding global trends, inform  data-driven forecast models to assess the impact on the population, optimize  the allocation of resources, and help in devising mitigation and containment  measures. In this article, we describe the scientific and technological  issues faced during the development and deployment of a flexible and readily  deployable web tool capable of coping with the requirements of different  countries for data collection, during either a public health emergency or an  ordinary influenza season. Even though the system is based on previous  successful experience, the implementation in each new country represented a  separate scientific challenge. Only after more than 5 years of development are  the existing platforms based on a plug-and-play tool that can be promptly  deployed in any country wishing to be part of the Influenzanet network, now  composed of The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, the UK, France,  Sweden, Spain, Ireland, and Denmark.

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