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Conserved patterns of incomplete reporting in pre-vaccine era childhood diseases.

Abstract

Incomplete observation is an important yet often neglected feature of observational ecological timeseries. In particular, observational case report timeseries of childhood diseases have played an important role in the formulation of mechanistic dynamical models of populations and metapopulations. Yet to our knowledge, no comprehensive study of childhood disease reporting probabilities (commonly referred to as reporting rates) has been conducted to date. Here, we provide a detailed analysis of measles and whooping cough reporting probabilities in pre-vaccine United States cities and states, as well as measles in cities of England and Wales. Overall, we find the variability between locations and diseases greatly exceeds that between methods or time periods. We demonstrate a strong relationship within location between diseases and within disease between geographical areas. In addition, we find that demographic covariates such as ethnic composition and school attendance explain a non-trivial proportion of reporting probability variation. Overall, our findings show that disease reporting is both variable and non-random and that completeness of reporting is influenced by disease identity, geography and socioeconomic factors. We suggest that variations in incomplete observation can be accounted for and that doing so can reveal ecologically important features that are otherwise obscured.

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