Pediatric sentinel surveillance of vaccine-preventable diseases in Italy

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Abstract

Background.

Planning and evaluating vaccination programs depend on reliable systems of monitoring disease incidence in the community. In Italy vaccine-preventable diseases are subject to statutory notification, but they are often unreported. In January, 2000, a pediatric sentinel network was launched, with the aim of monitoring in a timely and accurate way the geographic and temporal trends of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Methods.

The network consists of National Health System primary care pediatricians; participation is voluntary. The diseases under surveillance include measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis and varicella. Case definitions are based on specific clinical criteria, and pediatricians report cases on a monthly basis. Incidence rates are estimated and compared with those obtained by statutory notifications. The proportion of vaccinated cases is also computed.

Results.

In 2000 an average of 468 pediatricians participated each month of a total of 7276 pediatricians under contract for primary care by the National Health System. The population under surveillance consisted of 371 670 children younger than 15 years (of a national total of 8 347 804 children of the same age). The annual national incidence per 100 000 children was estimated at 5345 for varicella, 1972 for mumps, 279 for pertussis, 108 for rubella and 62 for measles, although wide variations were observed among geographic areas. The national estimates are 3 to 7 times higher than those obtained through statutory notifications. For all of the diseases the ratio between the two sources of data was significantly higher in southern Italy, compared with the rest of the country. The proportion of vaccinated cases was similar for measles and rubella (21 and 17%) but was approximately 3 times higher for mumps (59%). Most (74%) of the vaccinated mumps cases had received the Rubini vaccine strain.

Conclusions.

The sentinel surveillance system is considerably more sensitive than statutory notifications, particularly in southern Italy. The high percentage of mumps cases vaccinated with the Rubini strain indicates a reduced effectiveness of this vaccine. Although further improvements are needed, pediatrician-based sentinel surveillance is a useful tool for evaluating vaccine-preventable disease trends.

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