Period prevalence and identification challenges of viral haemorrhagic fever suspect cases in a ...


Background: A functioning Viral Haemorrhagic Fever (VHF) surveillance system in countries at risk for outbreaks can reduce early transmission in case of an outbreak. Surveillance performance depends on the application of suspect case definitions in daily clinical practice. Recommended suspect case criteria during outbreaks are designed for high sensitivity and include general symptoms, pyrexia, haemorrhage, epidemiological link and unexplained death in patients. Non-outbreak criteria are narrower, relying on the persistence of fever and the presence of haemorrhagic signs. Methods: This study ascertains VHF suspect case prevalence based on outbreak and non-outbreak criteria in a Guinean regional hospital for a period of three months. The study further describes clinical trajectories of patients who meet nonoutbreak VHF suspect case criteria in order to discuss challenges in their identification. We used cross-sectional data collection at triage and emergency room to record demographic and clinical data of all admitted patients during the study period. For the follow-up study with description of diagnostic trajectories of VHF suspect cases, we used retrospective chart review. Results: The most common symptoms of all patients upon admission were fever, tiredness/weakness and abdominal pain. 686 patients met EVD outbreak criteria, ten adult patients and two paediatric patients met study-specific nonoutbreak VHF suspect case criteria. None of the suspect cases was treated as VHF suspect case and none tested positive for malaria upon admission. Their most frequent discharge diagnosis was unspecific gastrointestinal infection. The most common diagnostic measures were haemoglobin level and glycaemia for both adults and for children; of the requested examinations for hospitalized suspect cases, 36% were not executed or obtained. Half of those patients self-discharged against medical advice. Conclusions: Our study shows that the number of VHF suspect cases may vary greatly depending on which suspect case criteria are applied. Identification of VHF suspect cases seems challenging in clinical practice. We suggest that this may be due to the low use of laboratory diagnostics to support certain diagnoses and the non-application of VHF suspect case definitions in clinical practice. Future VHF suspect case management should aim to tackle such challenges in comparable hospital settings.