JMIR public health and surveillance 2018 02 234(1) e17 doi 10.2196/publichealth.8944
Data from poison centers have the potential to be valuable for public health surveillance of long-term trends, short-term aberrations from those trends, and poisonings occurring in near-real-time. This information can enable long-term prevention via programs and policies and short-term control via immediate public health response. Over the past decade, there has been an increasing use of poison control data for surveillance in the United States, Europe, and New Zealand, but this resource still remains widely underused.
The British Columbia (BC) Drug and Poison Information Centre (DPIC) is one of five such services in Canada, and it is the only one nested within a public health agency. This study aimed to demonstrate how DPIC data are used for routine public health surveillance in near-real-time using the case study of its alerting system for illness related to consumption of shellfish (ASIRCS).
Every hour, a connection is opened between the WBM software Visual Dotlab Enterprise, which holds the DPIC database, and the R statistical computing environment. This platform is used to extract, clean, and merge all necessary raw data tables into a single data file. ASIRCS automatically and retrospectively scans a 24-hour window within the data file for new cases related to illnesses from shellfish consumption. Detected cases are queried using a list of attributes: the caller location, exposure type, reasons for the exposure, and a list of keywords searched in the clinical notes. The alert generates a report that is tailored to the needs of food safety specialists, who then assess and respond to detected cases.
The ASIRCS system alerted on 79 cases between January 2015 and December 2016, and retrospective analysis found 11 cases that were missed. All cases were reviewed by food safety specialists, and 58% (46/79) were referred to designated regional health authority contacts for follow-up. Of the 42% (33/79) cases that were not referred to health authorities, some were missing follow-up information, some were triggered by allergies to shellfish, and some were triggered by shellfish-related keywords appearing in the case notes for nonshellfish-related cases. Improvements were made between 2015 and 2016 to reduce the number of cases with missing follow-up information.
The surveillance capacity is evident within poison control data as shown from the novel use of DPIC data for identifying illnesses related to shellfish consumption in BC. The further development of surveillance programs could improve and enhance response to public health emergencies related to acute illnesses, chronic diseases, and environmental exposures.