Poxvirus and Rabies Branch, Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.
Endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), monkeypox is a zoonotic disease that causes smallpox-like illness in humans. Observed fluctuations in reported cases over time raises questions about when it is appropriate to mount a public health response, and what specific actions should be taken. We evaluated three different thresholds to differentiate between baseline and heightened disease incidence, and propose a novel, tiered algorithm for public health action. Monkeypox surveillance data from Tshuapa Province, 2011-2013, were used to calculate three different statistical thresholds: Cullen, c-sum, and a World Health Organization (WHO) method based on monthly incidence. When the observed cases exceeded the threshold for a given month, that month was considered to be 'aberrant'. For each approach, the number of aberrant months detected was summed by year-each method produced vastly different results. The Cullen approach generated a number of aberrant signals over the period of consideration (9/36 months). The c-sum method was the most sensitive (30/36 months), followed by the WHO method (12/24 months). We conclude that triggering public health action based on signals detected by a single method may be inefficient and overly simplistic for monkeypox. We propose instead a response algorithm that integrates an objective threshold (WHO method) with contextual information about epidemiological and spatiotemporal links between suspected cases to determine whether a response should be operating under i) routine surveillance ii) alert status, or iii) outbreak status. This framework could be modified and adopted by national and zone level health workers in monkeypox-endemic countries. Lastly, we discuss considerations for selecting thresholds for monkeypox outbreaks across gradients of endemicity and public health resources.
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