Scientific Papers

National influenza surveillance systems in five European countries: a qualitative comparative framework based on WHO guidance

Background: Influenza surveillance systems vary widely between countries and there is no framework to evaluate national surveillance systems in terms of data generation and dissemination. This study aimed to develop and test a comparative framework for European influenza surveillance.

Methods: Surveillance systems were evaluated qualitatively in five European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom) by a panel of influenza experts and researchers from each country. Seven surveillance sub-systems were defined: non-medically attended community surveillance, virological surveillance, community surveillance, outbreak surveillance, primary care surveillance, hospital surveillance, mortality surveillance). These covered a total of 19 comparable outcomes of increasing severity, ranging from non-medically attended cases to deaths, which were evaluated using 5 comparison criteria based on WHO guidance (granularity, timing, representativeness, sampling strategy, communication) to produce a framework to compare the five countries.

Results: France and the United Kingdom showed the widest range of surveillance sub-systems, particularly for hospital surveillance, followed by Germany, Spain, and Italy. In all countries, virological, primary care and hospital surveillance were well developed, but non-medically attended events, influenza cases in the community, outbreaks in closed settings and mortality estimates were not consistently reported or published. The framework also allowed the comparison of variations in data granularity, timing, representativeness, sampling strategy, and communication between countries. For data granularity, breakdown per risk condition were available in France and Spain, but not in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy. For data communication, there were disparities in the timeliness and accessibility of surveillance data.

Conclusions: This new framework can be used to compare influenza surveillance systems qualitatively between countries to allow the identification of structural differences as well as to evaluate adherence to WHO guidance. The framework may be adapted for other infectious respiratory diseases.

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