Gastroenteritis: overcoming a major gripe

Written by Brian Tarran on . Posted in Conference Blog

Gastroenteritis is a pain – and not only for those suffering with it. Despite being one of the most common illnesses worldwide, the burden of the condition on the population is not well understood. There’s no simple way to tell how many people are afflicted at any given time. But an online survey of flu symptoms might provide a solution.

Speaking yesterday at RSS Conference, the University of Warwick’s Elizabeth Buckingham-Jeffery talked through efforts to provide an estimate of the incidence of gastroenteritis symptoms using data collected by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Flusurvey.

Flusurvey asks a panel of 6,000 people to report once a week on whether they have experienced any flu-like symptoms, or none at all. These symptoms include diarrhoea and vomiting – two of the ‘calling cards’ of gastroenteritis.

From the full Flusurvey dataset, Buckingham-Jeffery and colleagues extracted information on the number of respondents reporting vomiting and/or diarrhoea during the winter months – which is the only time of year that the survey runs.

They then compared this data to that compiled by Public Health England on GP visits for gastroenteritis, both in and out of hours. There were noticeable differences between the two datasets, with GP data showing higher rates of young people seeking treatment – perhaps unsurprising as older people with the condition are encouraged to stay away from surgeries to reduce the risk of transmission.

The researchers also found that only 15% of Flusurvey respondents with gastroenteritis symptoms sought medical attention – suggesting that Flusurvey data can help fill the gaps in our understanding of the burden of gastroenteritis. But more work is still needed, said Buckingham-Jeffery.

  • Elizabeth Buckingham-Jeffery's talk, 'Online syndromic surveillance of gastroenteritis', was part of session 3.4 Contributed – Data Science: Applications to Online Data


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