Case definition for Ebola and Marburg haemorrhagic fevers: A complex challenge for epidemiologists and clinicians

Silvia Pittalis, Francesco Maria Fusco, Simone Lanini, Carla Nisii, Vincenzo Puro, Francesco Nicola Lauria, Giuseppe Ippolito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Viral haemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) represent a challenge for public health because of their epidemic potential, and their possible use as bioterrorism agents poses particular concern. In 1999 the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed a case definition for VHFs, subsequently adopted by other international institutions with the aim of early detection of initial cases/outbreaks in western countries. We applied this case definition to reports of Ebola and Marburg virus infections to estimate its sensitivity to detect cases of the disease. We analyzed clinical descriptions of 795 reported cases of Ebola haemorrhagic fever. only 58.5% of patients met the proposed case definition. A similar figure was obtained reviewing 169 cases of Marburg diseases, of which only 64.5% were in accordance with the case definition. In conclusion, the WHO case definition for hemorrhagic fevers is too specific and has poor sensitivity both for case finding during Ebola or Marburg outbreaks, and for early detection of suspected cases in western countries. It can lead to a hazardous number of false negatives and its use should be discouraged for early detection of cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-367
Number of pages9
JournalNew Microbiologica
Volume32
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009

Keywords

  • Case definition
  • Ebola and marburg virus outbreaks
  • Viral haemorrhagic fevers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)

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