An assessment of public health surveillance of Zika virus infection and potentially associated outcomes in Latin America

Leonelo E. Bautista, Víctor M. Herrera

Research output: Articles / NotesScientific Articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: We evaluated whether outbreaks of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection, newborn microcephaly, and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in Latin America may be detected through current surveillance systems, and how cases detected through surveillance may increase health care burden. Methods: We estimated the sensitivity and specificity of surveillance case definitions using published data. We assumed a 10% ZIKV infection risk during a non-outbreak period and hypothetical increases in risk during an outbreak period. We used sensitivity and specificity estimates to correct for non-differential misclassification, and calculated a misclassification-corrected relative risk comparing both periods. To identify the smallest hypothetical increase in risk resulting in a detectable outbreak we compared the misclassification-corrected relative risk to the relative risk corresponding to the upper limit of the endemic channel (mean + 2 SD). We also estimated the proportion of false positive cases detected during the outbreak. We followed the same approach for microcephaly and GBS, but assumed the risk of ZIKV infection doubled during the outbreak, and ZIKV infection increased the risk of both diseases. Results: ZIKV infection outbreaks were not detectable through non-serological surveillance. Outbreaks were detectable through serologic surveillance if infection risk increased by at least 10%, but more than 50% of all cases were false positive. Outbreaks of severe microcephaly were detected if ZIKV infection increased prevalence of this condition by at least 24.0 times. When ZIKV infection did not increase the prevalence of severe microcephaly, 34.7 to 82.5% of all cases were false positive, depending on diagnostic accuracy. GBS outbreaks were detected if ZIKV infection increased the GBS risk by at least seven times. For optimal GBS diagnosis accuracy, the proportion of false positive cases ranged from 29 to 54% and from 45 to 56% depending on the incidence of GBS mimics. Conclusions: Current surveillance systems have a low probability of detecting outbreaks of ZIKV infection, severe microcephaly, and GBS, and could result in significant increases in health care burden, due to the detection of large numbers of false positive cases. In view of these limitations, Latin American countries should consider alternative options for surveillance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number656
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 24 May 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'An assessment of public health surveillance of Zika virus infection and potentially associated outcomes in Latin America'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this