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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
WRY drafted the manuscript. WRY and VKD wrote the original protocol. SFN, BX, HJD and LP, were co-applicants on the grant application and also actively contributed to study design and to the refined protocol. WRY, SFN, BX and HJD also worked with the ethics applications at the sites. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
A crucial goal of infectious disease surveillance is the early detection of epidemics, which is essential for disease control. In China, the current surveillance system is based on confirmed case reports. In rural China, it is not practical for health units to perform laboratory tests to confirm disease and people are more likely to get 'old' and emerging infectious diseases due to poor living conditions and closer contacts with wild animals and poultry. Syndromic surveillance, which collects non-specific syndromes before diagnosis, has great advantages in promoting the early detection of epidemics and reducing the necessities of disease confirmation. It will be especially effective for surveillance in resource poor settings.
This is a field experimental study. The experimental tool is an innovative electronic surveillance system, combining syndromic surveillance with the existing case report surveillance in four selected counties in China. In the added syndromic surveillance, three types of data are collected including patients' major symptoms from health clinics, pharmaceutical sales from pharmacies and absenteeism information from primary school. In order to evaluate the early warning capability of the new added syndromic surveillance, the timelines and validity of the alert signals will be analyzed in comparison with the traditional case reporting system. The acceptability, feasibility and economic evaluation of the whole integrated surveillance system will be conducted in a before and after study design.
Although syndromic surveillance system has mostly been established in developed areas, there are opportunities and advantages of developing it in rural China. The project will contribute to knowledge, experience and evidence on the establishment of an integrated surveillance system, which aims to provide early warning of disease epidemics in developing countries.