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Disease Surveillance

Reportable Diseases




















Disease Surveillance


What is disease surveillance?

“The ongoing, systematic collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of data about a health related event for use in public action to reduce morbidity and mortality and to improve health”(1).

Why is disease surveillance necessary?

Surveillance is a necessary component of any functioning public health system. It allows us to detect, monitor, analyze, track, and evaluate a given disease or health event from which a plan of action can then be developed (2). From a One Health perspective, both human and animal diseases are of importance.

Why animals?

Disease surveillance among animals is of the utmost importance bu it is often neglected in the mainstream discussion of public health. When it is considered part of the discourse it is primarily concerned with “zoonoses caused by pathogens transmitted directly or indirectly through arthropod vectors to humans" (3). While this is certainly an important aspect of disease surveillance among animals it implies a rather anthropocentric view. ┬áThere is no denying that aspects of disease surveillance among animals is for the benefit of humans, particularly in regard to economic and security matters (4). However, it is important to keep in mind that disease surveillance among animals also contributes directly to animal health and in a much broader context it is an integral part of total ecological health.

What types of surveillance are there?

A number of different surveillance systems exist. Generally, speaking they can be categorized according to their particular methods of data collection or acquisition.

1. Facility-Based Routine Surveillance

This type of surveillance often consists of data collected on reportable diseases at hospitals, doctors offices, or veterinary clinics (5).

2. Community-Based Surveillance

This type of surveillance is primarily human centered. It consists of training community members to detect and respond to disease cases in their community and then report back to the appropriate authorities (5).

3. Sentinel Surveillance

This type of surveillance generally consists of specific institutions collecting and analyzing data on certain diseases based on geography, specialty, or some other distinguishing feature (5). In terms of disease surveillance among animals, a sentinel surveillance system might consist of placing a specific animal in a particular environment in order to detect whether or not an infectious disease is present.

4. Syndromic Surveillance

This type of surveillance system is failry new and differs from many of the other types of surveillance systems. While there is some debate as to what is actually meant by "syndromic surveillance" the CDC defines it as "an investigational approach where health department staff, assisted by automated data acquisition and generation of statistical signals, monitor disease indicators continually (real-time) or at least daily (near real-time) to detect outbreaks of diseases earlier and more completely than might otherwise be possible with traditional public health methods (e.g., by reportable disease surveillance and telephone consultation)"(6).


  1. CDC. Updated guidelines for evaluating public health surveillance systems: recommendations from the guidelines working group. MMWR 2001;50(No. RR-13).
  2. Teutsch SM, Churchill RE. Principles and practice of public health surveillance. 2nd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  3. Childs, J., Gordon, E. (2009). Surveillance and Control of Zoonotic Agents Prior to Disease Detection in Humans. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine 76:421-428.
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (1999, August 8). Manual on Livestock Disease Surveillance and Information Systems. Retrieved 09 09, 2010, from FAO: http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/004/X3331E/X3331E01.htm.
  5. USAID. (2009, June 2). Infectious Diseases . Retrieved 09 09, 2010, from USAID: http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/id/surveillance/overview.html
  6. CDC. Framework for Evaluating Public Health Surveillance Systems for Early Detection of Outbreaks. MMWR 2004;53(No. RR-05).