Participation by members of the public in influenza surveillance via the Internet
Launched two years ago by the French GPs Sentinelles network (a joint research unit involving Inserm and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie) and the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance, the GrippeNet.fr website is back for a third consecutive year.
GrippeNet.fr complements traditional surveillance systems for influenza, which are fed information collected in private physician practices and hospitals. These data facilitate research initiatives (at European as well as national level) aimed at gaining a better understanding of influenza—research on risk factors, the role of age, impact of vaccination, spread of the disease on a Europe-wide scale, etc.
The principle of the GrippeNet.fr (http://www.grippenet.fr) website is to allow anyone living in metropolitan France, whether ill or not, to participate in influenza surveillance anonymously and voluntarily if s/he wishes to do so.
Last year, GrippeNet.fr had over 6,000 participants
Overview of the last season
During the last winter season, between 15 November 2012 and 21 April 2013, GrippeNet.fr enabled the collection of a large quantity of influenza-related data. A little over 6,000 Internet users participated, and nearly 85,000 questionnaires were completed. All departments in metropolitan France were represented, and, as in the first season, women and individuals aged 60 to 69 years were the most frequent participants. The representativeness of participants in the GrippeNet.fr study was the subject of a recent scientific publication (M. Debin et al. Evaluating the feasibility and participants’ representativeness of an online nationwide surveillance system for influenza in France. PLoS One. 2013 Sep 11;8(9):e73675).
Weekly collection of symptoms presented by participants allowed monitoring of the course of the influenza epidemic in the population. During the season, 29% of participants reported symptoms consistent with an influenza-like illness, compared with 23% during the first season. These figures may be explained by the fact that the 2012-2013 seasonal influenza epidemic was especially long, as shown by surveillance data from the Sentinelles network and the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance (InVS). The level of participants who consulted a physician for symptoms consistent with an influenza-like illness was 38% (These figures were similar to those seen during the first season). Of the regular participants in GrippeNet.fr, 34% were vaccinated against seasonal influenza, compared with 20% of the general population.
Objectives for the new season, 2013-2014
Although the number of participants last year was very encouraging (and actually higher than observed for some other European countries that had launched their population-based influenza surveillance schemes before France), it remains insufficient to enable the course of the influenza epidemic to be studied in different population subgroups at present, especially in men and young participants.
For this third season, several new elements can be noted:
After completing the weekly questionnaires, participants will now have access to personalised feedback on their results, with new graphic and stylistic elements. This system will enable participants to compare their own results (level of participation, symptoms presented, etc.) with those of other participants (of the same age group or gender, for example).
Each participant may refer new participants via his/her account. All that is required is to complete the email address of individuals invited to participate in GrippeNet.fr. An email will be sent to them explaining the study and inviting them to participate.
New features introduced during the 2013-2014 season will help to make participation in GrippeNet.fr more fun, in order to motivate more people to become involved in the project.
Summary of the GrippeNet.fr project
This surveillance system was launched at the end of January 2012 by the Sentinelles network (a joint research unit involving Inserm and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie) and the French Institute for Public Health Surveillance.
The GrippeNet.fr system enables the collection of epidemiological data on influenza directly from members of the public in metropolitan France with the help of the Internet. Data compiled by GrippeNet.fr are not intended to replace information validated by health professionals, but rather to provide additional information, especially on patients who do not consult health facilities.
Participation in GrippeNet.fr, takes only a few minutes. When registering on the website, only an email address is required. After completing the questionnaire, the participant is invited each week to complete a short questionnaire summarising the symptoms experienced or not experienced since last logging in (fever, cough, etc.). These anonymous data are immediately analysed, and contribute in real time to influenza surveillance in France. Participation in this programme does not, of course, replace a visit to one’s GP.
GrippeNet.fr is a project funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) under the HARMS-flu project (Harmonising Multiple Scales for Approaches to the Modelling of Influenza Spread in France). GrippeNet.fr is part of a European population-based approach for the surveillance of influenza-like illness, Influenzanet. For this new season, 9 other European countries have adopted systems comparable to GrippeNet.fr, and over 40,000 Europeans participated in this surveillance during the 2012-2013 season.
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