Recursive least squares background prediction of univariate syndromic surveillance data

Amir Homayoon Najmi, Howard Burkom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background. Surveillance of univariate syndromic data as a means of potential indicator of developing public health conditions has been used extensively. This paper aims to improve the performance of detecting outbreaks by using a background forecasting algorithm based on the adaptive recursive least squares method combined with a novel treatment of the Day of the Week effect. Methods. Previous work by the first author has suggested that univariate recursive least squares analysis of syndromic data can be used to characterize the background upon which a prediction and detection component of a biosurvellance system may be built. An adaptive implementation is used to deal with data non-stationarity. In this paper we develop and implement the RLS method for background estimation of univariate data. The distinctly dissimilar distribution of data for different days of the week, however, can affect filter implementations adversely, and so a novel procedure based on linear transformations of the sorted values of the daily counts is introduced. Seven-days ahead daily predicted counts are used as background estimates. A signal injection procedure is used to examine the integrated algorithm's ability to detect synthetic anomalies in real syndromic time series. We compare the method to a baseline CDC forecasting algorithm known as the W2 method. Results. We present detection results in the form of Receiver Operating Characteristic curve values for four different injected signal to noise ratios using 16 sets of syndromic data. We find improvements in the false alarm probabilities when compared to the baseline W2 background forecasts. Conclusion. The current paper introduces a prediction approach for city-level biosurveillance data streams such as time series of outpatient clinic visits and sales of over-the-counter remedies. This approach uses RLS filters modified by a correction for the weekly patterns often seen in these data series, and a threshold detection algorithm from the residuals of the RLS forecasts. We compare the detection performance of this algorithm to the W2 method recently implemented at CDC. The modified RLS method gives consistently better sensitivity at multiple background alert rates, and we recommend that it should be considered for routine application in bio-surveillance systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
JournalBMC medical informatics and decision making
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics


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