Syndromic surveillance is a strategy used by public health to detect emerging issues and monitor the health of people in the community. Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Office of Epidemiology collects and analyzes health data from participating emergency departments and urgent care centers to identify emerging trends of public health concern. The data are categorized into syndromes based on the patient’s reason for visit (chief complaint) or diagnosis. Analytic tools are then used to rapidly identify unusual patterns in time or space that might indicate situations of concern.
Syndromic surveillance uses existing health data in near real-time for the early detection of health events that may not be captured through traditional public health surveillance methods. These data provide information on health trends rather than an exact measure of illness and injury in the community. When interpreting health trends it is important to keep in mind certain data limitations. It is also important to note that syndromic surveillance does not replace traditional surveillance methods, such as reporting of disease conditions required by the Code of Virginia, but rather compliments other VDH surveillance systems. Syndromic surveillance data do not include information that would specifically identify the individual seeking health care services, such as patient name, address of residence, social security number, or health insurance information.
In Virginia, syndromic surveillance is used to monitor the level of influenza-like illness during flu season, illnesses and injuries associated with major storms and natural disasters, health problems associated with mass gatherings, and emerging outbreaks or issues of public health concern, such as drug overdoses.