Surveillance of acute respiratory infections using community-submitted symptoms and specimens for molecular diagnostic testing

Jennifer Goff, Aaron Rowe, John S. Brownstein, Rumi Chunara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Participatory systems for surveillance of acute respiratory infection give real-time information about infections circulating in the community, yet to-date are limited to self-reported syndromic information only and lacking methods of linking symptom reports to infection types. We developed the GoViral platform to evaluate whether a cohort of lay volunteers could, and would find it useful to, contribute self-reported symptoms online and to compare specimen types for self-collected diagnostic information of sufficient quality for respiratory infection surveillance. Volunteers were recruited, given a kit (collection materials and customized instructions), instructed to report their symptoms weekly, and when sick with cold or flu-like symptoms, requested to collect specimens (saliva and nasal swab). We compared specimen types for respiratory virus detection sensitivity (via polymerase-chain-reaction) and ease of collection. Participants were surveyed to determine receptivity to participating when sick, to receiving information on the type of pathogen causing their infection and types circulating near them. Between December 1 2013 and March 1 2014, 295 participants enrolled in the study and received a kit. Of those who reported symptoms, half (71) collected and sent specimens for analysis. Participants submitted kits on average 2.30 days (95 CI: 1.65 to 2.96) after symptoms began. We found good concordance between nasal and saliva specimens for multiple pathogens, with few discrepancies. Individuals report that saliva collection is easiest and report that receiving information about what pathogen they, and those near them, have is valued and can shape public health behaviors. Community-submitted specimens can be used for the detection of acute respiratory infection with individuals showing receptivity for participating and interest in a real-time picture of respiratory pathogens near them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPLoS Currents
Issue numberOUTBREAKS
StatePublished - Mar 27 2015


  • Influenza
  • Participatory
  • Surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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