New Tools for Influenza Surveillance: a research paper explores the 2012-2015 activity of Italian web-based platform Influweb

In recent years the development of internet-based surveillance tools has brought an innovative approach to seasonal influenza surveillance, that integrates the traditional national syndromic surveillance systems. The experience of Influweb, an Italian online platform that directly involves self-selected volunteers among the general population reporting their health status on a weekly basis throughout the flu season, is explored in a new scientific paper published in Plos|One.

Deployed in Italy since 2008 (as part of the European network Influenzanet and coordinated by ISI Foundation, Influweb has been experimentally adopted by the Italian National Institute of Health as an additional source of data about the circulation of influenza-like illness among the population. The paper focuses on three recent flu seasons ( 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015), analyzing strenghts and weaknesses of the Influweb system and comparing its results with data collected during the same period by the Italian sentinel doctors surveillance system Influnet.

Results show how a platform like Influweb, even if its sample is not representative of the general population yet, can help traditional systems in determining risk factors and have a better overview of healthcare seeking behavior and vaccination effectiveness. Data collected by the web platform are well-correlated with those collected by the sentinel-based national surveillance (in line with what has been observed previously with web-based platforms for influenza surveillance in other countries); besides, by providing epidemiological information also from individuals who do not seek health care treatment following an infection, Influweb managed to detect the peak incidence earlier than sentinel doctors surveillance, thus suggesting that it may be able to detect temporal variations in incidence rates in advance with respect to the traditional surveillance system.

Participatory Online Surveillance as a Supplementary Tool to Sentinel Doctors for Influenza-Like Illness Surveillance in Italy, Daniela Perrotta, Antonino Bella, Caterina Rizzo, Daniela Paolotti. Plos|One, 11 January 2017.

Available on: journals.plos.org.