Understanding how to report on surveillance programs

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Surveillance is the process or system for tracking cases of risk factors, medical conditions, disease cases, adverse events, etc.

It is often used to track incidence of a disease, such as keeping up with where measles cases are during an outbreak or where remaining polio cases are in the attempt to eradication the disease. It’s also used to track prevalence, such as the total number of women living with breast cancer, or adverse events, such as tracking hospital-acquired infections or possible side effects from vaccines or drugs that the FDA has already licensed.

Journalists often must rely on surveillance programs to report on outbreaks or side effects or in doing investigative research, but it’s important to know what kind of surveillance you’re using – active or passive.

Understanding the difference is essential because passive surveillance systems cannot be used or interpreted in the same way as active surveillance systems.

Read this new tip sheet to understand how to interpret and reporting on surveillance programs.

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