School Attendance Registers for the Syndromic Surveillance of Infectious Intestinal Disease in UK Children: Protocol for a Retrospective Analysis

Anna L Donaldson, John P Harris, Roberto Vivancos, Daniel Hungerford, Ian Hall, Sarah J O'Brien

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Background: Infectious intestinal disease (IID) is common, and children are more likely than adults both to have IID and to transmit infection onto others. Before the introduction of the vaccine, rotavirus was the leading cause of severe childhood diarrhea, with norovirus and Campylobacter predominate pathogens. Public health surveillance of IID is primarily based on health care data, and as such, illness that is managed within the community will often go undetected. School attendance registers offer a novel data set that has the potential to identify community cases and outbreaks of IID that would otherwise be missed by current health surveillance systems. Although studies have explored the role of school attendance registers in the monitoring of influenza among children, no studies have been identified that consider this approach in the surveillance of IID. Objective: The aim of this study is to explore the role and utility of school attendance registers in the detection and surveillance of IID in children. The secondary aims are to estimate the burden of IID on school absenteeism and to assess the impact of the rotavirus vaccine on illness absence among school-aged children. Methods: This study is a retrospective analysis of school attendance registers to investigate whether school absences due to illness can be used to capture seasonal trends and outbreaks of infectious intestinal disease among school-aged children. School absences in Merseyside, United Kingdom will be compared and combined with routine health surveillance data from primary care, laboratories, and telehealth services. These data will be used to model spatial and temporal variations in the incidence of IID and to apportion likely causes to changes in school absenteeism trends. This will be used to assess the potential utility of school attendance data in the surveillance of IID and to estimate the burden of IID absenteeism in schools. It will also inform an analysis of the impact of the rotavirus vaccine on disease within this age group. Results: This study has received ethical approval from the University of Liverpool Research Ethics Committee (reference number 1819). Use of general practice data has been approved for the evaluation of rotavirus vaccination in Merseyside by NHS Research Ethics Committee, South Central-Berkshire REC Reference 14/SC/1140. Conclusions: This study is unique in considering whether school attendance registers could be used to enhance the surveillance of IID. Such data have multiple potential applications and could improve the identification of outbreaks within schools, allowing early intervention to reduce transmission both within and outside of school settings. These data have the potential to act as an early warning system, identifying infections circulating within the community before they enter health care settings. School attendance data could also inform the evaluation of vaccination programs, such as rotavirus and, in time, norovirus.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere30078
JournalJMIR research protocols
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2022


  • Absenteeism
  • Children
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Infectious intestinal disease
  • School attendance registers
  • Schools
  • Syndromic surveillance


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