Identifying pneumonia outbreaks of public health importance: can emergency department data assist in earlier identification?


Correspondence to:
Ms Kirsty Hope, Hunter New England Population Health, Locked Bag 10, Wallsend, NSW 2287. Fax: 02 4924 6212; e-mail:


Objective: To retrospectively review the performance of a near real-time Emergency Department (ED) Syndromic Surveillance System operating in New South Wales for identifying pneumonia outbreaks of public health importance.

Methods: Retrospective data was obtained from the NSW Emergency Department data collection for a rural hospital that has experienced a cluster of pneumonia diagnoses among teenage males in August 2006. ED standard reports were examined for signals in the overall count for each respiratory syndrome, and for elevated counts in individual subgroups including; age, sex and admission to hospital status.

Results: Using the current thresholds, the ED syndromic surveillance system would have trigged a signal for pneumonia syndrome in children aged 5-16 years four days earlier than the notification by a paediatrician and this signal was maintained for 14 days.

Conclusion: If the ED syndromic surveillance system had been operating it could have identified the outbreak earlier than the paediatrician's notification. This may have permitted an earlier public health response.

Implications: By understanding the behaviour of syndromes during outbreaks of public health importance, response protocols could be developed to facilitate earlier implementation of control measures.