Background/introduction The early recognition and investigation of outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is vital for preventing onward transmission.
Aim(s)/objectives We sought to understand the facilitators and barriers to outbreak recognition in order to improve early detection. To review the recognition and management of a series of recent outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections in the United Kingdom (UK). To formulate guidance that will enable early recognition of outbreaks.
Methods We interviewed clinicians and public health professionals who had been recently involved in identifying and managing STI outbreaks in the UK. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis.
Results Ten STI outbreaks were reviewed, generally by interviewing both a clinician and public health professional. Health advisers and sexual health consultants often noticed increases in cases with smaller clinics often identifying outbreaks more quickly than larger centres through “soft” signals such as increased partner notification, contacts named multiple times or cases with similar geographical location. Sometimes changing demographics first alerted staff. In two centres, increased ceftriaxone use prompted data review. Public Health England (PHE) regional teams identified two outbreaks: one through analysis of the national dataset (GUMCAD); and one via the formal Infectious Diseases Notifications process.
Discussion/conclusion “Soft” signals, picked up in smaller clinics were less readily noticed in larger services. Although quarterly retrospective collation of electronic data by PHE currently limits their role, electronic records should be better exploited locally within services.
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