Open Access Open Badges Methodology

Using statistical methods and genotyping to detect tuberculosis outbreaks

J Steve Kammerer12*, Nong Shang1, Sandy P Althomsons1, Maryam B Haddad1, Juliana Grant1 and Thomas R Navin1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Tuberculosis Elimination, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd NE, Atlanta, GA, 30333, USA

2 Northrop Grumman Corporation, 2800 Century Parkway NE, Atlanta, GA, 30345, USA

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2013, 12:15  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-12-15

Published: 16 March 2013



Early identification of outbreaks remains a key component in continuing to reduce the burden of infectious disease in the United States. Previous studies have applied statistical methods to detect unexpected cases of disease in space or time. The objectives of our study were to assess the ability and timeliness of three spatio-temporal methods to detect known outbreaks of tuberculosis.


We used routinely available molecular and surveillance data to retrospectively assess the effectiveness of three statistical methods in detecting tuberculosis outbreaks: county-based log-likelihood ratio, cumulative sums, and a spatial scan statistic.


Our methods identified 8 of the 9 outbreaks, and 6 outbreaks would have been identified 1–52 months (median = 10 months) before local public health authorities identified them. Assuming no delays in data availability, 46 (59.7%) of the 77 patients in the 9 outbreaks were identified after our statistical methods would have detected the outbreak but before local public health authorities became aware of the problem.


Statistical methods, when applied retrospectively to routinely collected tuberculosis data, can successfully detect known outbreaks, potentially months before local public health authorities become aware of the problem. The three methods showed similar results; no single method was clearly superior to the other two. Further study to elucidate the performance of these methods in detecting tuberculosis outbreaks will be done in a prospective analysis.

Tuberculosis; SaTScan; Outbreak detection; Genotyping; Log-likelihood ratio; Cumulative sums