Context: An outbreak of gastrointestinal (GI) illness among retirement community residents was reported to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. Online surveys can be useful for rapid investigation of disease outbreaks, especially when local health departments lack time and resources to perform telephone interviews. Online survey utility among older populations, which may lack computer access or literacy, has not been defined.
Objective: To investigate and implement prevention measures for a GI outbreak and assess the utility of an online survey among retirement community residents.
Design: A retrospective cohort investigation was conducted using an online survey distributed through the retirement community e-mail listserv; a follow-up telephone survey was conducted to assess computer literacy and Internet access. A case was defined as any GI illness occurring among residents during March 1-14, 2012.
Setting: A barbecue in a retirement community of 3000 residents.
Participants: Retirement community residents.
Intervention: Residents were directed to discard leftover food and seek health care for symptoms. A telephone survey was conducted to assess the utility of online surveys in this population.
Main Outcome Measures: Computer literacy and Internet access of retirement community residents.
Results: Of 1000 residents on the listserv, 370 (37%) completed the online survey (mean age, 69.7 years; 60.6% women); 66 residents (17.8%) reported a GI illness after the barbecue, 63 (95.5%) reported diarrhea, and 5 (7.6%) reported vomiting. Leftover beef from an attendee's refrigerator grew Clostridium perfringens. Of 552 residents contacted by telephone, 113 completed the telephone survey (mean age, 71.3 years; 63.3% women), 101 (89.4%) reported the ability to send e-mail, 82 (81.2%) checked e-mail daily, and 28 (27.7%) checked e-mail on a handheld device. The attack rate was 17.8% for online versus 2.7% for telephone respondents (P < .001).
Conclusions: This outbreak demonstrated the utility of an online survey to rapidly collect information and implement prevention measures among an older demographic.
This article describes an online survey to rapidly collect information and implement prevention measures among an older demographic. The utility of this survey was demonstrated in an outbreak of Clostridium perfringens in a retirement community in Arizona.
Epidemic Intelligence Service (Dr Yasmin) and Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (Dr Sunenshine), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia; College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson (Dr Pogreba-Brown); and Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Phoenix, Arizona (Drs Yasmin and Sunenshine and Ms Stewart).
Correspondence: Seema Yasmin, MD, Epidemic Intelligence Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd, Atlanta, GA 30333 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This study was supported by Maricopa County Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the institutions with which authors are affiliated. The authors thank Maricopa County Department of Public Health Office of Epidemiology and Community Health Nursing; Arizona State Public Health Laboratory; and Maricopa County Environmental Services.
All authors report no conflicts of interest.