Written by the CDC’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP)
Photo Courtesy of C-Span. Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary, Dr. Lee Norman, testifies to Congress about the need for a public health investigation of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury.
The outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the United States received widespread media attention when CDC began investigating a cluster of teens and young adults in Wisconsin and Illinois hospitalized with unexplained, sudden onset severe acute respiratory distress. With the increasing popularity of vaping among youth combined with the severity of this illness, there was a push to identify and prevent additional cases quickly.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), which routinely uses syndromic data to detect potential health problems, took initiative to make sure healthcare providers unfamiliar with EVALI would not mistake it for other conditions. Kansas epidemiologists began using the national severe lung injury query to actively identify suspected cases. They soon realized that vaping-related terms alone did not always identify people with EVALI and that a diagnosis could be masked by, for example, a patient’s drug or alcohol use. They refined the EVALI query to make it more sensitive and excluded age groups not affected (young children and the elderly) to make the query more specific. They regularly examined this line-level data.
Syndromic surveillance data on EVALI helped Kansas health officials understand the emergence of this condition in their state and raise awareness across health facilities. By communicating with hospitals and infection prevention staff to request records for suspected cases, Kansas health officials also improved medical facility reporting of this life-threatening condition. Through funding from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, syndromic surveillance is improving the nation’s public health.