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J Urban Health. 2003 Jun;80(2 Suppl 1):i76-88.

Enhanced drop-in syndromic surveillance in New York City following September 11, 2001.

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Syndromic Surveillance, New York City Department of Health, New York, New York 10013.


After the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, the New York City Department of Health was under heightened alert for bioterrorist attacks in the city. An emergency department (ED) syndromic surveillance system was implemented with the assistance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure early recognition of an increase or clustering of disease syndromes that might represent a disease outbreak, whether natural or intentional. The surveillance system was based on data collected 7 days a week at area EDs. Data collected were translated into syndromes, entered into an electronic database, and analyzed for aberrations in space and time within 24 hours. From September 14-27, personnel were stationed at 15 EDs on a 24-hour basis (first staffing period); from September 29-October 12, due to resource limitations, personnel were stationed at 12 EDs on an 18-hour basis (second staffing period). A standardized form was used to obtain demographic information and classify each patient visit into 12 syndrome categories. Seven of these represented early manifestations of bioterrorist agents. Data transfer and analysis for time and space clustering (alarms) by syndrome and age occurred daily. Retrospective analyses examined syndrome trends, differences in reporting between staffing periods, and the staff's experience during the project. A total of 67,536 reports were received. The system captured 83.9% of patient visits during the first staffing period, and 60.8% during the second staffing period (P < 0.01). Five syndromes each accounted for more than 1% of visits: trauma, asthma, gastrointestinal illness, upper/lower respiratory infection with fever, and anxiety. Citywide temporal alarms occurred eight times for three of the major bioterrorism-related syndromes. Spatial clustering alarms occurred 16 times by hospital location and 9 times by ZIP code for the same three syndromes. No outbreaks were detected. On-site staffing to facilitate data collection and entry, supported by daily analysis of ED visits, is a feasible short-term approach to syndromic surveillance during high-profile events. The resources required to operate such a system, however, cannot be sustained for the long term. This system was changed to an electronic-based ED syndromic system using triage log data that remains in operation.

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