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Identifying geographic areas with high disease rates: when do confidence intervals for rates and a disease cluster detection method agree?

Author(s): Rosychuk Rhonda

Journal: International Journal of Health Geographics
ISSN 1476-072X

Volume: 5;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 46;
Date: 2006;
Original page

Abstract Background Geographic regions are often routinely monitored to identify areas with excess cases of disease. Further epidemiological investigations can be targeted to areas with higher disease rates than expected. Surveillance strategies typically include the calculation of sub-regional rates, and their associated confidence intervals, that are compared with the rate of the entire geographic region. More sophisticated approaches use disease cluster detection methods that require specialized software. These approaches are not the same but may lead to similar results in specific situations. A natural question arises as to when these different approaches lead to the same conclusions. We compare the Besag and Newell 1 cluster detection method, suitable for geographic areas with diverse population sizes, with confidence intervals for crude and directly standardized rates. The cluster detection method tests each area at a pre-specified cluster size. Conditions when these methods agree and disagree are provided. We use a dataset on self-inflicted injuries requiring medical attention as an illustration and give power comparisons for a variety of situations. Results Three conditions must be satisfied for the confidence interval and cluster detection methods to both provide statistically significant higher rates for an individual administrative area. These criteria are based on observed and expected cases above specific thresholds. In our dataset, two areas are significant with both methods and one additional area is identified with the cluster detection method. Power comparisons for different scenarios suggest that the methods have similar power for detecting rates that are twice as large as the overall rate and when the overall rate and sample sizes are not too small. The cluster detection method has better power when the size of the cluster is relatively small. Conclusion The cluster size plays a key role in the comparability of methods. The cluster detection method is preferred when the cluster size exceeds the number of cases in an administrative area or when the expected number of cases exceeds a threshold.
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