This study analysed the consequences of deviation from the WHO case definition for the assessment of patients with suspected severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in The Netherlands during 2003. Between 17 March and 7 July 2003, as a result of dilemmas in balancing sensitivity and specificity, five different case definitions were used. The patients referred for SARS assessment were analysed from a public health perspective. None of the patients referred had SARS, based on serological and virological criteria. Nevertheless, all 72 patients required thorough assessment and, depending on the results of the assessment, institution of appropriate prevention and control measures. Changing case definitions caused confusion in classifying cases. A centralised assessment of the reported cases by a team with clinical and public health expertise (epidemiological and geographical risk assessment) is a practical solution for addressing differences in applying case definitions. The burden of managing non-cases is an important issue when allocating public health resources, and should be taken into account during the preparation phase, rather than during an outbreak. This applies not only to SARS, but also to other public health threats, such as pandemic influenza or a bioterrorist episode.

Assessment, Case definition, Management, Public health threats, Risk assessment, SARS,
Clinical Microbiology and Infection
Department of Virology

Timen, A, van Doornum, G.J.J, Schutten, M, Conyn-van Spaendonck, M.A.E, van der Meer, J.W.M, Osterhaus, A.D.M.E, & van Steenbergen, J.E. (2006). Public health implications of using various case definitions in The Netherlands during the worldwide SARS outbreak. Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 12(12), 1214–1220. doi:10.1111/j.1469-0691.2006.01552.x