Referent Selection in Case-Crossover Analyses of Acute Health Effects of Air Pollution


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Abstract

The case-crossover design was proposed for the study of a transient effect of an intermittent exposure on the subsequent occurrence of a rare acute-onset disease. This design can be an alternative to Poisson time series regression for studying the health effects of fine particulate matter air pollution. Characteristics of time-series of particulate matter, including long-term time trends, seasonal trends, and short-term autocorrelations, require that referent selection in the case-crossover design be considered carefully and adapted to minimize bias. We performed simulations to evaluate the bias associated with various referent selection strategies for a proposed case-crossover study of associations between particulate matter and primary cardiac arrest. Some a priori reasonable strategies were associated with a relative bias as large as 10%, but for most strategies the relative bias was less than 2% with confidence interval coverage within 1% of the nominal level. We show that referent selection for case–crossover designs raises the same issues as selection of smoothing method for time series analyses. In addition, conditional logistic regression analysis is not strictly valid for some case–crossover designs, introducing further bias.

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