Scientific paper shows feasibility of self-swabbing methodology for virological confirmation to Internet-based cohort

Routine influenza surveillance, based on laboratory confirmation of viral infection, often fails to estimate the true burden of influenza-like illness (ILI) in the community, because those with ILI often manage their own symptoms without visiting a health professional. Internet-based surveillance can complement this traditional surveillance, though one criticism of this method is that it is only able to assess ILI, rather than virologically confirmed influenza.

An international team of scientists, including ISI Foundation Research Leader and Influweb coordinator Daniela Paolotti, designed a pilot study to see if it was feasible to ask individuals from the UK Flusurvey platform (member of the Europe-wide Influenzanet network) to perform a self-swabbing task and to assess whether they were able to collect samples with a suitable viral content to detect an influenza virus in the laboratory.

The results, published on a paper out in Journal of Medical Internet Research, show that – as a proof concept – it is possible to successfully apply an at-home self-swabbing methodology to an internet-based cohort. Though this pilot does not have significant numbers to validate whether online surveillance accurately reflects influenza infection in the community, scientists suggest that self-swabbing could be expanded to larger online surveillance activities, such as during the initial stages of a pandemic, to understand community transmission or to better assess interseasonal activity.

"Self-Swabbing for Virological Confirmation of Influenza-Like Illness Among an Internet-Based Cohort in the UK During the 2014-2015 Flu Season: Pilot Study", Clare Wenham, Eleanor R. Gray, Candice E. Keane, Matthew Donati, Daniela Paolotti, Richard Pebody, Ellen Fragaszy, Rachel A. McKendry, W. John Edmunds, Journal of Medical Internet Research, 1st March 2018. Link: